Eight Common Supervisor Mistakes
Sometimes it seems as though there are a thousand ways supervisors and managers, although well-intentioned, can make misjudgments and end up with employee lawsuits. Here are 8 major, but common, errors to discuss while training your managers and supervisors.
1. Making unlawful pre-employment inquiries
Inappropriate questions during interviews and other pre-employment contacts are a primary source for claims of discrimination. The courts generally assume that if you asked a question, you intended to use the answer as a factor in your hiring decision. Therefore, any questions about or references to protected categories like sex, age, race, national origin, or religion, can later be used against you in court in a discrimination claim.
To the extent possible, standardize the application and interview process. Ask all applicants fundamentally the same questions. Keep questions objective and focused on the job requirements and the skills necessary to perform the job.
2. Delivering “dishonest” evaluations
Many managers and supervisors avoid the discomfort of delivering a review that indicates poor performance and instead cop out with a “satisfactory” rating. As a result, many legitimate actions taken against an employee based on poor performance can be questioned because the performance reviews are positive. So it’s important to be honest with performance evaluations. That’s easier when there are clear standards; if they are not met, just say so.
3. Too vague in discipline and performance write-ups
Similarly, and again to avoid unpleasantness, managers and supervisors will often write something on performance evaluations like “needs improvement.” That’s too vague. Does that mean the employee does a great job, but there’s always room for a little improvement, or does that mean that the employee is terrible? Or how about “talked to Sally about her performance and behavior.” And then we’ve got judgment words like “lazy.” Again, too vague. Offer documentation and documented examples of behavior.
4. Making rash disciplinary decisions
Maybe you will ultimately determine that firing is the appropriate thing to do, but getting angry and making an impulsive decision isn’t the way to do it. First of all, an angry tirade, especially if in public, gets those “I’m going to sue” juices flowing. Second, you should never fire without carefully reviewing the circumstances with HR.
5. Making uninformed responses to medical leave requests
Few supervisory situations are as frustrating and challenging as dealing with employee requests for medical leave, particularly since it may involve FMLA, ADA, and/or workers’ compensation. It’s never convenient, but managers and supervisors have to curtail any frustration and respond professionally. The basic rule for managers and supervisors should be to contact HR when employees are going to take leave that might involve any those three reasons.
6. Not knowing and not enforcing policies
Supervisors and managers are the front line for interpreting and enforcing the company’s policies. But if they don’t know the policies and their associated responsibilities, they’ll be begging for lawsuits. For example, imagine a supervisor telling an employee that he or she does not have time to listen to a claim of unwelcome harassment, or safety issues, or potential NLRB violations.
Regularly review your policies with all supervisors and update them on all changes before the policies are distributed to employees. Managers have an obligation, as unreasonable or impracticable as it may be, to be aware of and understand the policies and laws that apply to their workplace.
7. Letting problems fester
With bad behavior, it’s always tempting to ignore the problem in hopes that the behavior will improve on its own. But you know that’s not going to happen. And, unfortunately, as time goes by, you appear to be condoning the behavior. “You’ve known he was doing this for six months, and you did nothing, and now suddenly it’s a firing offense?
8. Making “Side Agreements”
Managers under stress may be tempted to make “side agreements,” that is agreements that either go against policy or are promises that likely won’t be kept. Sometimes, these agreements are directly contrary to law and policy; for example, employees can’t waive their right to overtime or pay for hours worked—even if they agree, even if they are eager to do a little work on the side. And three problems arise:
· It’s illegal behavior and there will be subsequent lawsuits.
· Employees will be left feeling that agreements haven’t been honored.
· There’s unequal treatment, so others who didn’t get the special treatment or privilege may sue.