Train Your Managers with Warner’s Warnings to Avoid Lawsuits

Warner, who is SPHR certified, is the founding partner of Moody and Warner PC in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her tips came at the SHRM Annual Conference and Exhibition.

Train your managers with the following valuable information and practical warnings from Warner.

High-Ranking Manager Is the Bad Actor

“I like it when a high-ranking manager was the harasser or took the retaliatory step,” says Warner. The higher the rank of the bad actor, the better for my client.

Even Worse—This Is Not the First Problem with this Manager

A step worse is when I can show that this was not the first time this manager committed the bad act, says Warner.

Even Worse—No Corrective Action

And even worse than that, says Warner is when there were previous incidents and the company took no action. Always take action, says Warner. Do something.

Even Worse—The Manager Got Promoted and Got a Bonus

Sometimes it’s a step worse than that, when the bad actor has been rewarded. Say the top manager was behaving inappropriately toward a 20-year employee who was subsequently fired. Here’s what I’m going to tell the jury, Warner says: “You rewarded him for this inappropriate behavior and she’s out of work after 20 years. There’s nothing bad in her file; he has a thick file full of complaints and problems. The jury does not like that.”

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Demonizing or Humiliating the Employee

Another mistake that Warner will take advantage of is demonizing or humiliating the employee. For example, often in an early conciliation session, the company attorney goes nuts on the employee, says Warner: “That could never happen here. You are crazy. This guy you are accusing is a great guy.”

The employee’s response is going to be, “I don’t care what happens. I am not settling. I am going to get the jury to hear this case.”

Here’s what to try instead, says Warner: “I’m really sorry. What are all the reasons you are concerned? I can see this is upsetting.”

Trying to be clever with testimony

“If you try to be clever, I’m going to get you,” Warner says. For example:

Warner: Does this incident violate your zero tolerance policy?
You (cleverly): It depends.
Warner: How many incidents does it take?
You: A few.
Warner: Do you agree it would be inappropriate to do/say X in the workplace?
You: There are times when it could be appropriate. It depends on how it’s interpreted.
Warner: Aren’t you the one who should know this?

Acting Clueless on the Witness Stand

Then, there’s the other side of the coin. A surprising number of managers and HR witnesses often seem clueless when testifying, Warner says. For example, they don’t know:

  • The company’s policies,
  • If or when training took place, and
  • How complaints are “supposed” to be handled, let alone how they were handled in the particular case.
  • The basics of the case: They haven’t reviewed the facts

“Losing” Important Documents

Finally, says Warner, be careful about documents. If you can’t find an important document in the case, like a performance evaluation or the other applicants’ resumes, I may suggest that you intentionally lost it.

“Finding” Mysterious “New” Documents

On the other hand, suddenly discovered disciplinary forms without an employee signature and complaints that are post dated are going to be suspicious.

Keeping simple documents: Just one of, what, a couple of dozen things you need to train your managers and supervisors on? So what can you do to make sure your leaders—every manager and supervisor on the org chart—take their leadership roles seriously? There’s only one way—train, train, train. By developing good managers you can help reduce turnover, improve morale and increase production, and that’s to say nothing of avoiding appraisal-based, expensive lawsuits.

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