Man filing an appeal for a failed PIP at Amazon.

Appealing a Failed PIP at Amazon

Amazon has an employee performance improvement process that can be overwhelming for employees faced with the threat of losing their job. Employees at Amazon who are identified as having performance problems by their managers normally experience one or more of the following:  

  1. They are placed on Amazon’s Development List (“Dev. List”), which identifies them as having performance issues and as a result, renders them ineligible for raises or other perks, including the award of stock, until they are taken off the list; 
  2. They are given a Pivot Plan (a choice between being placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) or agreeing to resign from the company with severance pay); and/or
  3. They are placed on a PIP (a plan to improve performance through the completion of specific tasks within a specific time and if not successful, results in termination of employment).  

Previously, employees who were faced with a Pivot Plan had the option to appeal the decision to place them on a Pivot Plan in the first place. Amazon’s appeal process is essentially a “mini-trial” conducted by a panel of Amazon employees, typically consisting of one supervisor and two to three “peers” (Amazon employees volunteer to sit on the panel and are then selected), who replicate jurors at trial. The appeal process, and all performance improvement measures, are supposed to be kept strictly confidential by everyone involved. The appeal panel reviews written submissions prepared by the employee and manager/supervisor and hears oral arguments from both parties via videoconference or phone (the parties are prohibited from hearing the other party’s oral presentation but receive a copy of the written submission). The employee and manager represent themselves in the appeal and cannot be represented by coworkers, advocates, or attorneys. Sometimes, other witnesses also testify. The party’s oral arguments are limited to ten minutes each followed by questions from the panel. Under Amazon’s old process, the issue evaluated on appeal was the overall determination to place the employee on a Pivot Plan and therefore, the employee’s overall performance was considered. If an employee won the appeal, the Pivot Plan was withdrawn, and the employee resumed his or her employment as normal. If the employee lost the appeal, the Pivot Plan remained in place and the employee had to choose between accepting the PIP or accepting the severance pay. For those who lost on appeal and chose the PIP instead of severance pay, the vast majority failed the PIP and were ultimately terminated without further recourse or compensation. 

Amazon’s new process changes the timing of the appeal. Now, employees faced with a Pivot Plan must make the choice between the PIP and severance pay first. They cannot appeal the decision to place them on a Pivot Plan. If an employee chooses the PIP and fails the PIP, they have a right to appeal the manager’s determination that they failed the PIP. The appeal process essentially works the same as it did before, except that the scope of the appeal is narrowed down to a determination of whether or not the employee passed or failed the PIP. Past performance and other issues are not considered. If an employee loses the appeal, employment is terminated. If an employee wins on appeal, the employee returns to work in the same position. In some cases, the employee is transferred to another team or organization under a different manager. However, not all employees are eligible for a transfer and most return to work under the same manager whose decision they appealed, which does not usually result in the friendliest of work environments. Although retaliation is prohibited, it undoubtedly occurs.

Sapphire Legal has helped many Amazon employees faced with a Pivot Plan to determine whether or not they should proceed with a PIP or choose severance pay. We have also provided legal advice and coached employees who have failed PIPs to prepare their written presentations and oral arguments for the appeal. We know what it takes to win an appeal at Amazon and how to present the information to the panel in an effective way that will increase the likelihood of success on appeal and allow the employee to keep his or her job. We also provide advice to employees who are retaliated against after winning an appeal and those who seek a transfer. If you are an Amazon employee faced with a Pivot Plan, are currently completing a PIP, have failed a PIP and need help with an appeal, or are facing retaliation from your manager, reach out to us. We can help you through the process.