Benefits and Compensation

10 Sins of Well-Meaning Supervisors

Sin #1. Making Unlawful Preemployment Inquiries

That’s an interesting accent you have. Where were you born?
Do you have any children? If so, will you have any daycare problems?
By the way, we’re all about diversity here.

Inappropriate questions during interviews and other preemployment 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.

Sin #2. Delivering "Dishonest" Evaluations

I’m giving you a “satisfactory” rating and I think we both know what that means in this company.
I gave her a “good” rating even though her work is poor, because I think a “poor “rating would be demotivating.

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.

Sin #3. Too Vague in Discipline and Performance Write-ups

Sally, your work could use improvement.
I’m making a note here that we talked about your performance.
Jay’s poor performance is unacceptable, and I’m just going to spell it out—he’s lazy.

Again, because of the desire to avoid unpleasantness, managers and supervisors will often write something on performance evaluations like “needs improvement.” That’s too vague. Does it mean the employee did a great job, but there’s always room for a little improvement, or does it mean that the employee did a terrible job?

Or how about “Talked about your performance”? Was that to tell her how exceptional her performance and behavior were?

And then we’ve got judgment words like “lazy.” Again, too vague. Offer documentation and give specific examples of the unacceptable behavior.


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Sin #4. Making Rash Disciplinary Decisions

That’s it, I’ve had it, you’re fired.

Ultimately, firing may be the appropriate thing to do, but instantly in anger isn’t the way to do it. First of all, an angry, public tirade gets those “I’m going to sue” juices flowing. Second, you should never fire without carefully reviewing the circumstances with HR. They are in a good position to evaluate the appropriateness of the punishment and its consistency with previous similar cases.

Sin #5. Making Uninformed Responses to Medical Leave Requests

You want what? You want 5 weeks of bonding leave during our busiest season? I don’t think so.
You’re going to take every Friday off? That’s not going to happen.

Few supervisory situations are as frustrating and challenging as dealing with employee requests for medical leave, but managers and supervisors have to curtail that frustration and respond professionally.

You just don’t want your managers and supervisors trying to deal with FMLA leave. The basic rule for managers and supervisors should be: Contact HR.


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Sin #6. Not Realizing the “Power” of the Supervisor

Let’s go out for a drink after work. Then maybe we’ll grab dinner.
I’m hoping everyone will contribute generously to my charity.

Inviting an employee out for a drink after work may seem a simple gesture, but the subordinate may view it as an order. Especially if the request is repeated, it can always be viewed as coercion or harassment. Supervisors and managers are agents of the company, and when they engage in behavior that may be considered harassment, it’s especially egregious because of the power they have over their employees.

Another aspect of supervisors’ agent status is that if the supervisor knows, the company knows. The company can’t say “We weren’t aware of the situation.”

In tomorrow’s Advisor, wage/hour sins, plus the rest of the top 10 sins, and an introduction to a timely live webcast on how to spot wage/hour problems (everyone’s got them) before the feds do.