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First Line Supervisors The Achilles Heel in Discrimination Cases


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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 never an acceptable defense.

All personnel should receive *** 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.

    Cathy Baniewicz has over 30 years experience in human resources. Her career began at Beatrice Foods Co. , where she progressed to Assistant Director of Affirmative Action and Corporate Personnel Manager. Prior to joining EffortlessHR, Cathy was Assistant Director of Human Resources at Golden Eagle Distributors, Inc. (Budweiser). Cathy has her B. from DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, and MBA from George Williams College, Aurora, Illinois. Cathy obtained her Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification in December of 2004. EffortlessHR is an on-line Human Resources Program designed for small businesses. This program will guide you through the maze of human resource laws and issues. You will have access to your employee information anytime, anyplace. Federal and State laws, personnel forms, “How To" guides, posters and reports are at your fingertips. EffortlessHR is affordable at only $24.95 per month or a discounted annual rate. Sign up today for a no-risk free trial. Go to - or call us at (520) 546-3947.

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