I've had a very frustrating issue with an employee of mine. The original issue is discussed at length here.

Here's a quick update: after lots of leaving messages and trying to contact her, my employee finally agreed to return the item. When I received it from her, it clearly was not the item I had ordered online. I'm almost positive she had bought a cheaper item (worth probably $80 instead of the original $920) and put it in the same box. The online store I made the original purchase from refuses to accept it back. Ultimately, I've decided to drop the matter and accept that this is lost money.

TLDR - there was a mistake on my part (accidentally mailing a personal expensive item to my employee); she didn't return it back, which made my daughter angry at me and ruined Christmas.

Now here's the follow-up question. I am writing yearly performance evaluations for my team. With this employee, all I can think of are the negative things she has done this year. I recognize that this is probably because I am still sore and angry from the events of a few weeks ago.

How can I put my personal grievances aside and provide a fair performance review?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 9:41

13 Answers 13


How can I put my personal grievances aside and provide a fair performance review?

Explain to HR your dilemma. Ask them for their recommendations and involvement.

Since you clearly have issues that you cannot get past ("all I can think of are the negative things she has done this year. I recognize that this is probably because I am still sore and angry from the events of a few weeks ago.") you probably shouldn't be conducting the performance review.

And as Tymoteusz Paul correctly points out in a comment, you probably shouldn't be managing this employee any longer.

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    Yes, this, and probably shouldn't manage that employee either if at all possible, as this level of grievance is not healthy.
    – Aida Paul
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 11:45
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    Not being able to keep personal life and work apart is bad for a manager, be careful with HR, as HR is not your friend (even if you are a manager) Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 15:16
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    @Ivan So they should pretend that they can keep their personal and work life apart, to the probable detriment of their employee?
    – Bwmat
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 20:50
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    I find it entirely reasonable to believe that while he's sore about it now, that he'll get over it with a bit more time, especially since he's showing introspection. I would leave the recommendation to not manage them till more time has passed to know if he can actually let it go and be professional going forward.
    – coagmano
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 22:25
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    This fails to take into account the prior question - we're talking about a ~$900 theft.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 13:14

Begin the process of firing her for the theft of another employee's personal property.

Don't bother writing her performance review. You don't need one when an employee's been fired for cause.

Sure, you sent her a thousand-dollar gift by accident. However, when she "returned" to you a much cheaper replacement gift in the same box, it went from being an embarrassing accident for you, to deliberate theft on her part. Theft of another employee's personal property is unacceptable, and I would have immediately both filed a police report and talked to HR about beginning the process of firing her.

If she's willing to steal from you, personally, she's also likely to be willing to steal from the company, and that makes her ongoing employment an unacceptable risk to the business.

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    This is the correct answer. You don't stay polite indefinitely when the other party is already playing deceit and villainy.
    – iBug
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 10:03
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    Agree this is the correct answer, I think you have an obligation to your employer to ensure this person leaves the company ASAP.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 16:45
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    Please read the original post, she never stole anything, or at least there is no proof that she did. It was a mistake from the OP to begin with, he never saw the supposedly original item, he has no way to know if it was the same item or not, he is guessing it was not.
    – yms
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 19:53
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    Depending on the jurisdiction, this could be substantially the wrong thing to do. Doing so, without being extremely careful and clear as to the reason for firing could easily end up with both the OP and their company in a very bad legal position. At least in the US, there is a good argument that the employee had an explicit legal right to keep as a gift the unordered merchandise which they received (see 39 U.S.C. § 3009 and this Federal Trade Commission page on Unordered Merchandise).
    – Makyen
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 20:54
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    I'm not saying there's nothing wrong here. I'm saying that there's a lot of grey in this situation, particularly in calling what happened "theft". There are, certainly, ethical issues here, but by calling the situation "theft" and using that as a reason for firing, or any negative repercussions to the employee, you make it entirely about the legal issues when the OP and the company are, potentially, on shaky legal ground.
    – Makyen
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 20:55

The best way of evaluating her fairly on her work is to first determine in your mind the absolute best explanation for what happened. Try to imagine her point of view, and make the circumstances the best you can come up with.

Here's one scenario:

She received this expensive gift from her boss, it was quite unexpected, and while awkward, she sent a nice thank you to him. It didn't appear to match what was in the box, and she wonders if the thought he was ordering an even more expensive item. Probably not, if it was sent to her. However, once she tried to use it, she realized it didn't integrate with her own equipment, so she gave it to her brother, who could really use it. Then, her boss told her it was a mistake and it needs to be returned. She is dismayed - her brother is already using it, and she can't afford to buy another one. Nonetheless, she finds a replacement, matching what she actually received rather than matching the box, and even though that is way out of her budget and is going to make it hard to pay bills. She buys that and puts it in the box to return to her boss. She really hopes he didn't order the more expensive item, but since she struggled to even buy the cheaper item, she is afraid to bring it up, in case he wants more. Her previous boss was always angry, and she's learned to just keep her head down and say as little possible. She really needs this job.

Think that scenario to yourself - she was put in an awkward position, and doesn't have the courage to talk to you about it. Empathize with her. Manipulate your own emotional response.

Then, look at her work. Is there evidence that she tries to hide mistakes or is afraid of you, or does that seem to be an anomaly? Other than that, that event shouldn't affect her work evaluation at all.

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    I love this answer!  It's far too easy to assume the worst, especially when we only see part of the story.  (And especially when the story that we assume paints us as the victim, so we can get angry or upset about it.)  It's far harder to imagine other possible explanations, to think the best of people, and to forego that righteous anger.  It takes a real effort.  But life can be so much better — for us as well as those around us — if we do!
    – gidds
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 19:12
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    If the goal is to propose a situation that helps us empathize with the employee, I don't think this is it. When you (i.e. the employee) are asked to return a gift that was sent to you in error, acceptable responses include returning the original gift or coming clean and explaining why you can't, or maybe a couple other things, but definitely not substituting a different item without asking or even acknowledging the substitution. That raises serious questions about the employee's integrity, in my opinion.
    – David Z
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 22:25
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    @thursdaysgeek Thanks, indeed the new version seems to cast the employee in a much better light to me! Still not as good as coming clean, of course, but at least in this scenario I find it much more believable that the employee was trying to do something right.
    – David Z
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 1:09
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    You've formatted your fantasy scenario as a quote, when it isn't one. You're advocating giving some sort of "benefit of the doubt" to a person your convoluted fantasy scenario paints as flat out deceptive - a liar. You're advocating the OP allowing themselves to be ripped off by this liar; in fact, you're advocating they make up this unlikely scenario in their head (lying to themselves), then allow the person they've fantasy-decided is lying to rip them off. I am amazed at the number of upvotes. How is indulging in any of this helpful to anybody?
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 16:24
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    @T.J.L. - The OP doesn't KNOW she is lying or ripping them off, only suspects she replaced the item with a cheaper one, and the initial error was on them. They want a way to evaluate her work without all that baggage of suspicion. They either keep the baggage and open themselves to the accusation of problematic behavior themselves, they ask her to be removed from their team, or they find a way to unload the baggage. They can only change themselves, and they are asking how to do so. They should still keep their eyes open for problematic behavior in the future. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 16:42

Unfortunately, without knowing what the gift is, it's hard to say exactly what the right response is. But I think you severely lack empathy for the unfortunate situation you've put an innocent employee in.

They may have had no idea of the value of the gift. They may have re-gifted it, sold it, or even discarded it. If you're unwilling to accept the loss of the value of the gift even though the mistake came from your end, why do you think the innocent recipient should?

Perhaps by seeing this from their point of view, you can find a way to give them an honest performance review and not punish them for a mistake that was not theirs. If not, maybe you shouldn't be reviewing people's performance.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 9:41

As I see it at least there is already an issue of fidelity and integrity for this employee

Given that these are usually corner stones traits of the employee next to professionalism, why would you call it a personal grievance and not professional evaluation?

At work people do not show themselves completely, its the little things that give us a glimpse in to what are they for real

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    you're not supposed to be glimpsing anything other than their performance in their role
    – benxyzzy
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 16:06
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    He can't prove anything... So to let that affect her performance review would be unprofessional and innapropriate Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 16:42
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    That's not a good answer. The employee could have done anything with the "gift" before getting contacted to return it. Yes, her way to deal with the situation wasn't perfect, but neither was OP's behavior.
    – BigMadAndy
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 20:04
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    How exactly keeping the expensive item that is not yours show you in a good light?
    – Strader
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 22:11
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    I think this is the correct answer, any other hypothesis (panic, fear, worry) fall flat fast when honesty was the only right way of action. This employee is undoubtely dishonest or unempathetic and that should reflect on their evaluation. People get fired for saying "wrong opinions" on social media because the things they say reflect the kind of people they are (and brand protection).
    – Erikus
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 0:01

You are most of the way there already The idea that you are not fit to be her boss or somehow at fault seems founded on an unrealistic expectation that anyone can be perfectly objective. It seems to me that she has been at best duplicitous, but in a personal context, and you are trying to look past it. I would suggest you ask her to list positive things she has done, etc., or if it can be done without detriment to her move her to another team. Asking HR to sit in on your meeting is also reasonable.

Fundamentally, someone who receives a $920 gift from their boss, doesn’t query whether it was a mistake (or whether others on the team received similar), and then only pretends to return it would be a red flag for honesty in their professional life. Of course she may have given it to her brother, charity, or sold it - and that would have been understandable, these are all natural things to do with a high value gift you didn’t choose and can’t return - but to lie about it is much more problematic.

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    I think the situation where she's duplcitous is the worst case, not the best case. The best case for her is that she returned the exact item she recieved, and the mistake was further up the chain
    – coagmano
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 6:31
  • Hence, the “it seems to me” — I don’t disagree there are many other logical possibilities but I don’t think many of them are terribly likely. Amongst the plausible theories duplicity seems the best case (again to me). It would be a remarkable coincidence for this expensive misdelivered gift to also to have somehow been subject to some fraud up the chain. I would also expect someone gifted a $80 gift in a $900 box to politely enquire if there had been some mistake Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 20:00
  • @dothyphendot It depends on the nature of the item. If it was jewelry, a purse, or some other fashion item then it might not be clear at all from the packaging what, exactly, is supposed to be inside. For coincidences, how many people on a mid-sized team are willing to risk tanking their careers over 900$, and how likely is it that the misdelivered gift went to someone who was in the dishonest group? Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 16:27
  • They could of course open the packaging - this wouldn’t normally preclude returning it. Working out how much it cost wouldn’t be that hard. Clothes/bags have brands, gems often come with insurers certificates, etc. One can naturally come up with some examples — an antique vase the value of which is only discernible to the connoisseur but these things aren’t normally ordered in the mail to give to teenage daughters. I agree that the action might not seem rational from our perspective but people are often driven by debt/greed/embarrassment. Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 16:53
  • how likely is it that the misdelivered gift went to someone who was in the dishonest group? Unlikely, yes, but think about all the other StackExchange questions that never ended up existing because "I accidentally ordered the wrong thing to my employee's address, explained the situation and they returned it" - must happen a lot, but doesn't result in a question! Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 15:52

Putting aside your personal attitude in the workplace is the difficult skill, but it's a crucial skill for a boss. If you can't do that, you're a poor boss. Period.

Now you have 3 options. The first one is to maintain professional relation to your subordinate. You know you can think only of negatives. Write them all now, and put them on your ignore list. So that you would skip the most negative things that come from your emotions.

The second is to admit to your boss you can't do objective evaluation of this employee because of personal reasons. This will, of course, put you in the bad light because it will expose your inability to keep personal from professional.

The third option would be to write the evaluation in spite of being unable to overcome your personal attitude. A negative review because of personal issues is a very bad thing. It's a misuse of power. In worst scenario (for you) the victim of that review could claim your review is based on the personal issues bitween you both and it could terribly misfire. Even up to criminal charges, if your jurisdiction criminalize defamation in the workspace.

  • I agree with all you have said, although I don't think the employee is likely to complain of the poor review for personal reasons, as that would certainly open them up to having to explain why they (apparently) gave the OP a cheap knockoff by way of "returning" an expensive item sent to them in error.
    – Meg
    Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 19:35
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    But the fourth option is to put aside that she's stolen from you personally, and to consider for their appraisal whether you'd be equally critical if she's stolen from another employee - if she'd been caught taking cash from someone's wallet, for instance. I can't see a case where this wouldn't affect someone's review, and they can think themselves damn lucky to still have any kind of job even if it does include a formal warning on their employment record. At that point their performance over the year is moot, because they cannot expect a raise, promotion or any other positive outcomes.
    – Graham
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 14:05
  • @Graham nothing was stolen! If you read through the chaotic statements of the OP it should be crystal clear! Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 7:09
  • @DanubianSailor When they kept the expensive item they were sent accidentally and returned something different, they stole it. Maybe a simpler example. If payroll sent you $500 by accident and asked you to transfer it back, and you transferred back $5 and refused to give back the full amount, that would be theft too and they'd call the police.
    – Graham
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 10:39

If you don’t feel comfortable with one aspect of managing this employee, why are you comfortable doing other aspects? If you can’t give her a fair review, how can you fairly decide which projects she should work on or give her the same amount of support that you give subordinates you don’t have issues with? Have you thought about how stressed she probably is about getting a performance review from you?

The only solution in my opinion is to sit down with a mediator you both trust to be neutral and see if you can resolve the issue. Obviously, your first attempt to resolve it has failed. If you’re going to continue to manage this employee you need to try again. If you don’t think you can ever resolve it, she should report to someone else.


As I read the story, it occurs to me that the two of you were not able to manage a situation that actually seems easily resolvable with a bit of empathy and understanding. Since we only know your perspective, we cannot decide for sure which party contributed to which extent to this misunderstanding. However, I believe there is no common basis for you and said employee to work together any longer. I would direct my action towards that, but still treat them fair and professionally as expected from you as their supervisor.


I don't think any of us can be objective about the actual behavior, because we're only hearing your side, so I'm not going to attempt to address the character part of it.

One technique a lot of managers I know use (including mine) is to have the employee fill out an evaluation form, and you fill out an evaluation form, then you get together to discuss and merge the two. I can't say it's my favorite method, but in my opinion it generates a more fair result. If your organization has a matrix-like structure, like separate technical/project managers and "HR" managers, you can also ask her other leaders about accomplishments.


You absolutely should involve higher-ups / HR as soon as possible (which would likely remove you from being their boss / having contact with that subordinate).

The question you ask "if you're able to be fair in performance review" is actually of much less importance then the real deal (or original $920 price) -- a male boss buying expensive gift to female subordinate could be catastrophic not only for your employment, but for company too.

  • If that employee ever get less than stellar review, she could pull "he was buying me expensive gifts and later implied he wanted sexual favors in return, and when I refused he decided to sabotage my job" card, and all hell will break loose.
  • Even worse, if that employee does get only stellar reviews in the future, the situation will look even worse for you, for exactly the same reasons.

Company must be informed in order to make damage control measures for your mistakes. Yes, HR is not your friend, and it will probably cause non-negliable damage to your standing in company, but it is much better then alternatives (trying to hide the mistake and then it later gets out).

Also, your wife (assuming she is not working in similar position in same company as you) having access to company ordering system is very probably problematic security problem they'd have to deal with.


I completely disagree with this answer.

Begin the process of firing her for the theft of another employee's personal property.

Do not fire someone for something that you can not prove. And no, you can not absolutely prove that she received the genuine item.

In one case, I remember someone being rewarded 40 million dollars in an initial judgment because HR had fired an employee for stealing a cell phone and posting the picture of the person on every floor of the company. It turns out that the cell phone was actually hers, despite the fact that it was identical to the cell phones the company had an inventory of.

Instead, let your interpretation of her actions color your performance review. If no one knows about your suspicion, then no one can accuse you of a personal bias.


It seems that the organizations you belong to have given you a disproportionate power over many of the people surrounding you.

With this specific employee, you are both in a position of hierarchical power, and also benefit from the structural gender inequalities between men and women. You also seem to have more financial power than them: an amount you can afford for family gifts, they find non-trivial enough to make a point of keeping.

Despite the asymmetrical balance of powers, you admit holding negative feelings toward this person.
This is an incredibly dangerous situation that you must defuse. You have to think hard about what you will do to rebalance the distribution of powers around you.

In regard to employee evaluation, a way to do this could be to remove yourself from the process, and instead rely on the opinion of that employee's colleagues.

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