The employee worked for a company which was acquired by Google in 2008. She was employed by Google as a Publisher Support Manager and had no previous performance issues.

She alleged that due to Google’s “unique” system of rating employees, staff ratings for each unit were calibrated to match a template bell curve system. In the employee’s view, this meant that someone always had to get a low score, equating to underperformance. This low score impacted upon an employee’s bonus and career progression. The employee asserted that this rating system was “arbitrary and subjective” and she alleged that scores were also altered by Managers who did not know the employee.

In 2010, the employee was awarded a score of 2.9, which was considered by Google as “not meeting expectations.” This rating led to a Performance Expectation Plan followed by a Performance Improvement Plan being implemented. After a series of disciplinary meetings and written warnings, the employee was dismissed on grounds of failure to meet the targets set for her and lack of competence. The employee asserted that although she met 95% of the targets set for her “no matter what she did it was never good enough.”

Google claimed that a thorough and fair process had been carried out. Several options had been discussed with the employee before dismissal and demotion was not a realistic possibility for her.

The Tribunal held that Google had failed to establish that the employee had changed from someone with no disciplinary record to a less competent employee within such a short period of time. The Tribunal did not accept Google’s claim that the dismissal was fair and linked to competency issues.

Furthermore, it found that there was no evidence that any other options (such as demotion) had been considered other than termination. The Tribunal was not satisfied that “fair procedures were used” and it considered the process to be “procedurally unfair.”

The case serves as a reminder for employers of the importance of fair, reasonable and transparent performance management processes and disciplinary procedures. It is also a reminder that employers give real consideration to all possible alternatives to dismissal prior to arriving at any such decision and to document such thought processes and discussions.

Nuala Clayton