Most employee lawsuits are caused by the actions of a first-line supervisor. In other words, that woman that you just promoted from cashier to assistant manager is the one most likely to get your company sued by a disgruntled employee or former employee. Why? Because the first-line supervisor has the most day-to-day contact with your employees. And during that contact, the first-line supervisor may make racist comments, forget to accommodate the disabled, show favoritism to those of his/her own religion, or make an employee work “off the clock”.
Remember that your lowest-ranking supervisor still represents “the company” and can make your business liable for discrimination, retaliation, compensation errors and other legal violations.
So from a preventative viewpoint, the selection and training of a new supervisor involves much more than just taking your hardest-working employees and giving them a raise and the keys to the storeroom. Here are some of the things to consider when promoting an employee to a supervisory role:
- Is this potential supervisor tolerant of all races, religions, national origins, etc.? In other words, have you ever heard this employee make a sexist comment, state strong opinions about the illegal immigration debate, display a Confederate flag at his house, or otherwise indicate deep-seated prejudices that may sneak out in the workplace and imply to other workers that the company is similarly prejudiced.
- Does this employee “get it” as far as sexual harassment is concerned? Or has he/she dated coworkers, told dirty jokes at work and discussed sexual matters at work that should be kept private?
- Does this employee demonstrate mature judgment in life and at work? Besides looking at the employee’s workplace decisions, consider that an employee who allows a chaotic lifestyle to spill over into the workplace (drug-using son or daughter who pilfers from the petty cash box at work or creditors who are calling your employee all the time trying to collect bad debts) may not be able to focus on the demanding tasks of supervising coworkers with calm and confidence and will make mistakes that could cost the company.
- Has this potential supervisor tamed his/her tongue and temper? Poor self-control by a supervisor leads to many employee lawsuits.
Selecting a mature, responsible, tolerant supervisor is only the first step. No one instinctively knows all the requirements of legally supervising workers. These must be taught in supervisor training. It is your responsibility as the owner or manager of a business to make sure your new supervisors receive detailed quality instruction (not on the job training) in the essentials of employment law.
Your supervisors (new and old) should be provided training in the following areas, among others:
- What are the “protected classes” under federal and state law and how do these classes impact the behavior and decisions of a supervisor.
- How to document all employee behavior, performance and discipline so that the documents will satisfy any agency or jury that reviews them later.
- How to respond to complaints from subordinates so that discrimination, retaliation and other laws aren’t violated.
- Red flags, such as worker’s compensation claims, to consider before firing an employee.
- Things a supervisor should never say.