10 Sins of Supervisors

Sometimes it seems as though there are a thousand ways supervisors and managers—although well-meaning—can get it wrong, and end up begging for employee lawsuits. We’ve distilled it down into 10 major sins HR can talk to its managers and supervisors about. Here, BLR editor Steve Bruce presents the 10 Sins of Supervisors–with the help of actor portrayals/examples–and explains why and how to avoid each mistake and keep your company out of legal trouble.

Sin #1. Making Unlawful Pre-employment Inquiries

Interesting accent you have? Where were you born?

Do you have children? Any daycare problems?

Inappropriate questions during interviews and other pre-employment 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.

To the extent possible, we recommend standardizing the application and interview process. Ask all applicants fundamentally the same questions. Keep questions objective and focused on the job requirements and the skills necessary to perform the job.

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 upset her.”

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.

So it’s important to be honest with performance evaluations. That’s easier when there are clear standards; if they are not met, just say so.

Sin #3. Too Vague in Discipline and Performance Writeups

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.

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

Or how about “Talked to Sally about her performance and behavior.” (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 documented examples of behavior

Sin #4. Making Rash Disciplinary Decisions

“That’s it, I’ve had it, you’re fired.”

Maybe you will ultimately determine that firing is the appropriate thing to do, but this isn’t the way to do it. First of all, an angry tirade, especially if in public, gets those “I’m going to sue” juices flowing. Second, you should never fire without carefully reviewing the circumstances with HR. You may, for example, want to:

  • Conduct an investigation.
  • Review the employee’s personnel file.
  • Review company policy pertaining to the incident.
  • Ascertain that the employee received a copy of the policy in question and knew the consequences of failing to follow it.
  • See if there are any contractual obligations, for example, a union contract, or a handbook guarantee of progressive discipline.
  • Give the employee an opportunity to give his or her side of the story.
  • Make sure similarly-situated employees have been treated the same.

Sin #5. Making uninformed responses to medical leave requests

You want what? You want 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—it’s the Bermuda triangle of FMLA, ADA, and workers’ compensation. And it  seems it’s never convenient. But managers and supervisors have to curtail any frustration and respond professionally.

The basic rule for managers and supervisors should be to contact HR when employees are going to miss work for reasons that might involve FMLA. You just don’t want your managers and supervisors trying to manage FMLA leave.

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 hope everyone will contribute generously to my charity.

Inviting an employee out for a drink after work may seem a simple gesture, but the employee 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 supervisor agent status is that if the supervisor knows, the company knows. The company can’t say “We weren’t aware of the situation.”

So train supervisors and managers to be aware of situations in which they may be perceived to be exercising their power inappropriately. And make sure they know to report to HR indications of improper behavior or complaints or allegations

Sin #7. Not knowing and not enforcing policies

We’re busy now. Talk to me about that harassment next week.

If you think the work’s not safe, you’re free to quit any time.

Nobody in this department can mention the company or our operations to outsiders including facebook friends and anyone else on line.

Supervisors and managers are the front line for interpreting and enforcing the company’s policies. But if they don’t know the policies and their associated responsibilities, they’ll be begging for lawsuits. For example, imagine a supervisor telling an employee that he or she does not have time to listen to a claim of unwelcome harassment, or safety issues, or potential NLRB violations.

Regularly review your policies with all supervisors and update them on all changes before the policies are distributed to employees.

Managers have an obligation, as unreasonable or impracticable as it may be, to be aware of and understand the policies and laws that apply to their workplace. Failure to comprehend these laws can initiate lawsuits, can cause embarrassment in court (“You’re responsible for upholding these laws, and you’ve never had any training?”)

Sin #8. Making wage\hour blunders

We’re out of overtime. Can you clock out and then set up for tomorrow?

You’ll be working alongside out regular employees, but you new recruits are all independent contractors.

Tracy, make sure you stay close to the phone during lunch and keep your phone near you evenings for calls from the West Coast.

Wage and hour should be simple but it just isn’t. The most common problems are:

Overtime. Failure to track it, failure to pay it, and failure to include bonuses in the “regular rate.”

Off the clock. For example, the supervisor says, “We’re out of overtime; can you clock out and then set up for tomorrow?” (You have to pay even if the employee volunteers, and even if you’ve forbidden the employee to do work.)

Misclassification. For example, calling employees exempt whose duties do not meet the criteria for exemption (and therefore not paying overtime).

Independent contractors. Many employees who are labeled as independent contractors are actually employees who need to be paid overtime.

Docking exempt employees. Docking exempt pay is allowed only in limited circumstances.

Sin #9. Letting problems fester.

He’s crossing the line with his behavior, but he surely knows he’s making me unhappy—he’ll figure it out.

“Oh, that’s just Jimmie. He means no harm—he’s just oldschool.”

With bad behavior, it’s always tempting to ignore the problem in hopes that the behavior will improve on its own. But you know that’s not going to happen.

And, unfortunately, as time goes by, you appear to be condoning the behavior. “You’ve known he was doing this for six months, and you did nothing, and now suddenly it’s a firing offense?

Sin #10. Making “side agreements”

Managers under stress may be tempted to make “side agreements,” that is agreements that either go against policy or are promises that likely won’t be kept:

Stay after you clock out for the next two weeks until we get this job out the door, and I’ll make it up to you by writing in extra overtime next month when the budget switches over.

Take this transfer, and I’ll guarantee you a promotion at the end of the year.

I can’t pay you for this work, but you and your spouse can go out for a nice dinner on the company account.

Sometimes, these agreements are directly contrary to law and policy; for example, employees can’t waive their right to overtime or pay for hours worked—even if they agree, even if they are eager to do a little work on the side. And three problems arise:

  1. It’s illegal behavior and there will be subsequent lawsuits
  2. Employees will be left feeling that agreements haven’t been honored
  3. There’s unequal treatment, so others who didn’t get the special treatment or privilege may sue.

OK, that’s our top 10 sins of supervisors and managers. Avoid them, and stay hassle—and lawsuit—free.

For all your HR hassles, we recommend http://HR.BLR.com.  This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor.

3 thoughts on “10 Sins of Supervisors”

  1. Truly, these are are common mistakes we commit. Sometimes inadvertently, at times with intent. I would like to see another video screening “How to avoid the 10 sins”

  2. I’m an manager in Oregon for a company who Vice President has told me face to face how a previous manager had to work for Free because that’s a managers responsibility and a manager gots to do what a manager gots to do this same VP promoted a coworker who only worked one day a week maybe 6 hours which we thought of as odd seeing how this co worker called me ( I was just an employee at this point) at home and so did others when other co workers didn’t show up to work trying to state I was the one who was scheduled to work then when I proved I indeed was not the one scheduled was begged my this co worked to come lock the doors the manager at the time would not answer his phone and the VP wouldn’t answer either I finally told co worker I would try calling someone I was able to get a hold of the “maintenance man” who then told me the owner said I needed to go in after working 10 Days in a row double shifts 10 hours shifts almost everyone of those days with out any lunch break or any break at all saying I signed the rights to my breaks away and being the only employee on shift sending the second employee home because there wasn’t hours allowed for two people so I was left to run the inside and outside by myself and we were held responsible if any one stoled while your out side helping customers and if you failed a secret shop due to any reason even not being to provide quick friendly service due to being the only one there and it’s you to anywhere to one to 20 people at a time but I need my job so I did whatever asked the co worker who only worked one day a week was offered the promotion to manager when the manager at the time decided he was to overwhelmed and never received support from corporate office and he didn’t want to continue to give free time anymore one to three weeks after the female co worker was promoted all us workers noticed a odd relationship developing between her and the VP she then informed all of us she was being promised yet again in about 2 months also the VP was there several times s week letting her go home and he would complete/do her managers work I voiced how I was very qualified to be considered for the up coming manager position the acting manager at the time said she’d agreed and began having me start doing the things that she was supposed to be doing saying that she was going to put in a good word for me and that I was probably going to get the position which I did but I’m pretty sure the only reason that I did this because I did not stand back and keep my mouth quiet that coworker who became manager then became a regional manager therefore she was my regional manager it was her responsibility to train me in all areas that I was I was to take over the VP then gave upon his responsibility is acting regional manager and vice president of marketing he’s now the vice president of the entire company the Worker that was promoted to regional manager would call me and see how I was doing and then proceed to tell me how she couldn’t drive the 60 miles down to show me things I need to be shown she would tell me that she’s available by phone to give her a call many and many times I called her she was not available and when she was available in most of the time talking to me about her relationship with the vice President of the company and how they are now living together and how things are going Every times that she would come down she would tell me let’s take a work lunch and we would proceed to go get something to eat and then she would say Ishe needed to stop off and grab a couple things and proceed to go to Fred Meyer’s and shop for things when for the vice President of the company she told me they had moved in right when she was promoted to regional manager and she would shop for things such as his underwear’s and other things alcohol and other such things she never sat there and trained me when I would ask her what I need to be trained on she would show me to just do this this and this just fill in the numbers The gentleman who was the previous manager before herr came in and found me crying one day due to the fact I did not know what I was doing and he sat down with me several days showing me work that I needed to get in or at least the bare minimal that I needed to get it at this point my work was never in , in a timely manner however the VP never said a word to me at all because he knew his girlfriend his live in girlfriend was THE ONE WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR training me she never showed me these things The young lady ending up quoting the company with a threats of a lawsuit over not being give a company car and computer when ishe really left due to the fact that she was jealous of another RM the VP was taking overnight trips with this was three years ago they are still together today the 1st co worker and the VP however when his girlfriend quit he began to send email stating that my work was not turned in on time and not done correctly when I stated that I was not showing correctly he never acknowledge the fact he completely ignored it and just continue to send emails that I was going to be disciplined for not doing it correctly but yet no one has ever shown me how to do it correctly the new RM came down listen to me and I told him everything I told him everything there was to know about the previous manager and vice president and how I was never shown properly when he addressed these issues to the new vice president of marketing and she brought it up to the vice President she was let go after Being with the company for 12 years my regional manager stayed my new RM for about a year after about a year he couldn’t take it anymore he stood up for all of us managers and it never got us nowhere and he then decided it might be in his benefit to just leave the company stating that we all should do the same that was about last time I had help and appreciation the next person that was provided with The RM position after that was the vice presidents right hand and came down and proceeded to tell me again how everything I did was wrong but yet he didn’t have the time to show me I have been down here by myself still left to fix everything I am to be a maintenance person the gardener the electrician and a plumber a manager, a cashier a gas pump attendant a floor repair person The windows on the wall leak I’ve repaired them everything that breaks I am to repair they have inserted a ticket system which does not work the owner calls me on a regular basis at all hours day or night weather I’m on site or my own time I have not had a full day off in over a year I been told that I am not allowed to be without my cell phone at any time I have been told that I cannot go camping on my days off without submitting a request to do so because I will not be available by phone I am not paid salary I’m paid by the hour I have worked for so many hours off the clock being told that a manager has to do what a manager has to do over and over and then in emails do not work off the clock do not work off the clock emails also state do not let the employees have more than 25 hours per week the emails have also stated if I get more hours than I’m allowed I will be written up in the last two months there has been 2, ladies who have been promoted one is a new vice president of marketing and the other is my new regional manager in the last two months I have been written up over 30 times in the last two months by these to you and all of my 25+ years as a worker I have never been written up in my life I have never been fired from a job I have never been investigated for anything I have never been in trouble and all of a sudden here I am With over 30+ right ups the new RM sends her daughter and her boyfriend live in the same town as I do to spy on us and discipline us when she she meaning the daughter who does not work for the company who actually walked out on the company on another site in Bend Oregon feels we are doing wrong and has told me to my face that her daughter is her extended arm and her daughter has control over what is said and done to us employees this spring I was given some devastating news that have six months to two years to live by my doctor of 17 years then he quit this was horrible news for me anybody can imagine but I still went to work every day responsible and I still try to do everything that I can make sure that the store was running correctly then July came and I found out that family members from California and Nevada where coming up to see me and to see how I was doing to see if I Needed anything to spend time with me I told my RM at the time that I was going to take time off but I would still come in and make sure that my manager work was done ( this is the second year I had to do this) and I would not clock on while getting it done when my family got out here every I went in and did yes the minimum work I was very depressed my family was here and it seemed I just couldn’t do a good enough job for this company at this time I had not even heard from my RM in over three weeks or anything going on with my RM then one evening I received a email on my personal phone which gets calls from the owner several times a day and on my workers stating that I was in trouble for not getting all of the managers work done required via email I then gave an in deatail report of every question asked and also the very next day isthe brand-new Vice President of marketing showed I happened to be just be arriving at the same time putting in my free hours to get my managers work done for the day before I went and spent time with my family who drove thousand miles to see me and then I showed her and prove to her that everything that was in question was done correctly and not missing or anything like that she then let me know that I was in trouble for not submitting a time off request form and I told her that I had spoke with with my regional manager and he was well aware that I was taking time off and said that me telling him was enough information as long as my shifts were covered i also told him that I would be coming in the morning and doing the managers work for the day off the clock for free they never even told me that I no longer had a regional manager that he had had a nervous breakdown and could no longer handle the job of being a regional manager and was now back in the office with the vice President that was later conveyed to us in an email and weeks and weeks later, when I addressed my Heath issues to her and I was quite upset anybody getting that kind of information would have been when she was very unsympathetic and told me I must send in a schedule change request for every doctors appointment that I had and she was not taking an account any days that I do not feel well or that I needed testing done we live in a very small town and sometimes you have to take an appointment when you can get it and sometime you get called saying jthat someone cancels and your doctor can get you in this was unacceptable to her and I have been written f for it she told me Ithen another lady was promoted to regional manager to my regional manager and has beenfor the last two months she’s the one who sends the daughter and boyfriend I could tell neither of these people did not like me I have been written up more than 30 times for things such as the hours which means that the 430 I’m a lotted for all employees all shifts I went over hours I HAD STOPED WORKING FOR FREE and then they told me that I was not to work off the clock but I was never ever to go out over hours again I was once again told that a manager has to do what A manager has to do and then again I began working off hours so that I can have enough coverage so my employees where not running things alone which now was against policy I figure that being the manager it was my responsibility to work for free and not my employees however with all secret shop inspection which you can’t fail even if your marked down for something that is totally out of your control that needs repair that is the owner of the company’s responsibility to fix and not mine and everything else really became so overwhelming then they wanted me to tell the employees to get out on their hands and knees and pull weeds in the rain and at the dam time handle customers grab scrub the outside walls and they wanted me to scrub the 40 foot over hang that every other site had hirered professionals to do when I told them I had no latter to do so they never cared just stated to get it done and paint the post as well they brought me paint no brushes when I brought this up I was told oh my god dont you have any at home you can use Wanting all these extras done the city is finding the company for the bad landscaping that the code inforement officer ststed it needed to be done by a licensed professional and we are to keep our uniforms clean at the same time because you get markdown ifvyour clothes are dirty they demand these expectations I feel Steve very highly unreachable and are there just so you could never accomplish them and you can never ever get any kind of praise thank you or good job I have received several 100% secret shops and I have never heard a thank you or a good job until my last one snd that good job was directly from the owner who still calls me at all times asking questions about the managers the regional managers the vice present a company. people through out the office claim that they come down and fix the problems that I report and they do not and when asked by the owner if they in faceted did so I tell Thur that I’m then told that I am never to speak with the ower directly even though he calls me or I would be written up he continues to call me and I continued to state that things were not getting done and now I have been suspended without pay due to an on an ongoing investigation that they wont explain to me brought on by that vice president marketing and RM neither would not elaborate and then I have found out since then they’re investigating something I was not there for that I was not even on the schedule I was not even on the cameras I’m not even there at all I feel that these two women have targeted me and had it out from the very beginning to get me out of there and I was asked several times when they were suspended me if I would really rather just quit and then I told her am no quitter and I’m not going nowhere I also informed them that I had several hours on last Tuesday that I clocked off for and had to work for free because there was no coverage at the time I was also written up for covering other employees shifts when they called in sick I was also written up for so many things I have put in at the very least 15 to 20 hours per week for the last three years the way they word their employee handbook is a lot of doubletalk you do not get brakes they have even told me that if one of the employees calls in sick I am to change the schedule and to tell the other employee of my choosing that they are to come in or if not they will be considered a no call no show even though their schedule Says they have the day off they just wanted me to change everything and lie to other employers and when I refused well very shortly after that I was suspended and I’m suspended no without pay and I was give no time the suspension would end and I am asking what to do i don’t know if I should file for unemployment I do not know how long I can be suspended for and I do not know what to do about any of this I need my job I’m a hard-working person my husband is disabled I have always been a hard worker I need my job and I figured the more I did for the company the more time I put in my own time the more I would be making them happy but the more I did it would guarantee that I would keep my job and it has not and I do not know what to do I am at a loss I have never been through anything like this before I have always been this good worker I don’t know know what to do I am the soul supporter of my family we have just recently started buying our home 6?years ago and I do not want to lose it I am scared and I am lost can someone please help me

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