Human Resources News & Insights

Answers to tricky HR questions: E-mail and the performance review process

Our team of experts fields real-life, everyday questions from HR managers and gives practical answers that can be applied by any HR pro in the same situation. Today’s question: What are the legal pitfalls of doing reviews via e-mail?


As part of our performance review process, we ask staff members to comment on the performance of other employees, usually via e-mail. Are there any legal pitfalls in conducting peer reviews this way?


Yes, says employment law attorney R. Michael Carr (

Conducting peer reviews via e-mail means you’re going to have a permanent record of  co-workers’ comments – some of which could be discriminatory or defamatory.

If supervisors take those comments into account for a disciplinary or termination decision, you leave yourself open to litigation.

Your best bet is to have employees peer review co-workers in person to a supervisor, who can then summarize their comments in an official written report.

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  • Stacy

    You can see facial expressions, attitudes, emotions etc. You can have conversations about issues that you may not have thought of via e-mail. The chances of your conversation being shared verbatim is less risky than an e-mail that can get forwarded all over the company.

  • Maggie

    Not sure how to post a new question, so I’m going to try replying to this topic, since it seems related. As a manager, what is the best way to ask your direct report to keep track of her work in 2 hour increments for 2 weeks without offending her? I truly have no idea what takes her so long to do her job but maybe I just don’t know all that she does. I also need to give her other duties, but can’t do it because she says she is too busy with her current duties. If I don’t get a handle on this situation the head of the department has threatened to let her go, but I don’t want that to happen until I know for sure whether she just can’t handle it or if there is some way for me to help her.

  • Alecfinn


    That is a tough one for it can be perceived as many things;

    In the past when we had to do something like this we had a group of folk that had similar duties conduct a “Time and Motion Study”. That was giving them basically a calendar that had the day broken down into 15 minute increments (A page from an appointment book) and asked all of them to fill out a separate page and to file the page with one person at the end of each day.

    The reason for the group was to avoid having any person feel they were targeted and it also told us allot of what was happening in the areas monitored.

    We also repeated the process in a few other areas as a “Performance Improvement Project” by asking the staff for written suggestions. The suggestions were recorded on the forms recording what could be done to assist them to make their day better.

    Much of the information was redundant, and there were a few “Smart Comments” but there were also a few gems that could be used.