Jul 312008

Having the correct human resources policies and procedures in place is not sufficient to prevent findings of unlawful discrimination if your supervisors are not properly trained. Often someone is promoted into supervision without any experience managing people. First line supervisors are considered to be “management” and as such are responsible for knowing and following the myriad employment laws.

“Preventative maintenance” is always cheaper in the long run.

The Number One Rule: Don’t’ promote someone to supervision solely because they are a good worker. Make certain the individual has the skills and abilities to become a good supervisor. If the employee has no management background, do skills assessments to help you determine if the person has what it takes to be an effective member of your management team.

Make certain the new supervisor receives the necessary training:

Review all policies and procedures in detail, making sure the new supervisor understands the proper disciplinary procedures for violations of company policy.

Supervisors should be familiar with federal and state employment laws. There are numerous training courses, seminars, etc. on employment law for new supervisors. Many courses are offered online, thereby saving travel expense. Remember, ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense.

All personnel should receive sexual harassment training. This is a growing area of litigation and proactive measures to train the workforce are strongly recommended by the Equal Opportunity Commission.

If supervisors are involved in recruiting, make certain they understand the various “legal” factors involved in the hiring process, i.e. candidate screening, appropriate interview questions, employee selection based on being the most qualified for the position.

Red Flags!

Supervisors who play “favorites” and do not apply your policies and practices consistently. Someone who is constantly bending the rules puts the company in a vulnerable position regarding discrimination claims.

Supervisors who keep their own ‘files”. Matters regarding performance problems should be in the employee’s personnel file. All supervisory files are subject to subpoena in discrimination cases, so be certain you know what information a supervisor is keeping.

Supervisors who view training in employment laws, etc. as a “waste of time”. Countless discrimination suits have been lost because of the inappropriate actions of first-line supervision.

Supervisors who “wing it” and don’t ask questions. Communicate that employee relation issues are important, and encourage supervisors to be upfront if they need help or training. No one has all the answers.

Hold your supervisors accountable! If you have a performance appraisal program, be certain that compliance with all employment laws is a factor in the supervisor’s evaluation.

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  2 Responses to “First Line Supervisors – the “Achilles’ heel” in Discrimination Cases”

  1. Supervisors often come unstuck in interviews when they are not aware of what constitutes an illegal interview question. In addition to asking illegal questions such as “How old are you?”, “Where were you born?” they do not focus on question that relate directly to the requirements of the position itself . Interview questions must be related to the position and should be designed to answer the question, “Does this person have the necessary qualifications, skills and abilities to perform this job?”. Most interviewers do not deliberately ask illegal interview questions, it is often unintentional and due to a lack of experience and training. For a guide to commonly asked illegal interview questions.

  2. Cathy, I totally agree with you that sexual harassment training should be received by all employees. Sexual harassment is a growing area of litigation and many complain that sexual harassment in the workplace is sometimes either a forgotten secret and that many just don’t acknowledge it, or that the employee or employees might just not know that what they are doing can be viewed upon as sexual in nature and unwelcomed.

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