Learning & Development

Handbook Not Enough—You Must Train Supervisors

Yes, you have handbooks, but you need to train to be sure your supervisors know the material provisions of your policies and rules, says attorney Mark Schickman. And they need to understand that policies must be fairly and consistently applied.


While you are at it, Schickman adds, make sure that your practices match your policies. Schickman is a partner with Freeland Cooper &Foreman LLP in San Francisco. He offered his tips during a recent webinar sponsored by BLR® and HR Hero®.

Supervisor Training Highlights

Be sure your training covers the following, says Schickman:

  • Basic rules of discrimination,
  • Definitions of sexual harassment, and
  • An understanding of retaliation.

Supervisors need to be familiar with the protected classes, and they must avoid discriminating and be sure to treat people fairly. Here are some examples Schickman uses:

  • Realize that if you discriminate against a man who appears effeminate, because he doesn’t present himself the way you think a guy should, or if you discriminate against a woman who doesn’t fit your concept of feminine, you’re probably discriminating, even in jurisdictions that don’t cover discrimination based on sexual preference.
  • If you interview someone and you want to say, “If you think you’re going to deal with our customers looking like that, you’re wrong,” call HR instead. Say, “Here’s something I haven’t seen and need help dealing with it.”

With regard to religious discrimination, be wary of stopping people from wearing clothes consistent with their religious identity.

The supervisor is a representative of the company, but there is no individual liability by and large; the liability is the company’s.

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However, remember that in some circumstances, there could be individual liability. Say a pregnant woman decides she is going to have an abortion. If you discriminate, that could be discrimination for which the employer would be responsible; but if as a supervisor you harangue the employee, and cause the employee to suffer emotional distress, that can be the supervisor’s liability.

Fair Evaluations Well Documented

The next most important thing supervisors can do is to take care with evaluations. Evaluate throughout the year, Schickman says, and avoid the “halo effect,” that is, basing decisions on the most recent 4 weeks instead of the whole year.

Making notes throughout the year is important. Then they can be formalized at least annually.

At the time of the annual review, go through your desk file, and if there is anything worth maintaining by way of detail or significant facts, put that in the permanent personal file.

Push supervisors to have concrete examples for everything they are mentioning in an evaluation. He’ll see, for example, “not a team player.” The employee will say that as meaning she rebuffed the inappropriate advances of other people in the company.

And when you ask the supervisor what “not a team player” means, he or she will say, “This was written years ago. How do I know what it means?”

Depositions are often 4 years after the fact, and trials, 5 years. What have you got with “not a team player”? Not much, says Schickman.

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If what you mean to say is, “does not work collaboratively with other employees,” say that and give examples.

  • When we do problem solving, this employee does not take part.
  • Two days before we submitted the big proposal, we needed additional information, and everyone else dropped what they were doing to help. This employee would not take part.

However, never get emotional when describing these things, says Schickman. Juries don’t like it and companies don’t like it. (It’s not a fair deck—employees can get emotional, but supervisors can’t—Schickman says.)

That doesn’t mean that situations are easy—say an employee was fired who just bought a house. That’s a tough situation, Schickman admits.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, situations supervisors face, plus an introduction to BLR’s audit-by-checklist program.

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