By Calvin Gower, Instructional Designer at Trüpp.
You may have managers who naturally excel in their role. They lead well, facilitate their team’s developmental growth, and manage employees in a way that aligns with the company’s strategic vision. Why provide these managers that seem to have it all figured out with unique manager training? Supervising employees comes with critical legal responsibilities and unexpected pitfalls that the typical employee may not be aware of or discover intuitively on the job. Consider these three managerial responsibilities that, if mishandled, could put an organization at risk.
Managers are typically the first point of contact when an employee is absent from work or expresses a potential need for leave; therefore, it is crucial to be familiar with state and federal job-protected leave provisions. Knowledge regarding this subject extends beyond receiving and processing a sick time request. While the actual facilitation of employee leave will likely fall under Human Resources’ or an established leave administrator’s responsibility, a manager must be aware of applicable laws and related company processes.
Suppose a manager fails to escalate Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or state-specific leave-related matters to Human Resources. This can lead to significant paperwork delays and the failure to trigger the leave process in time, putting the company at risk. An untrained supervisor may think a particular action is harmless during the leave process that directly violates specific regulations. The following examples show how a seemingly harmless step taken by a manager can lead to legal risk.
Contacting Employee on Leave – A manager reaches out to an employee regarding an urgent work-related question while the employee is out on leave, asking them to “please respond as soon as possible.” While the manager may feel that reaching out was their only choice, this action violates the FMLA protections provided to that employee.
Negative Reaction – An employee triggers a need for leave, and a manager reacts with frustration because the team is already short-handed. This emotional reaction can be interpreted negatively and even lead to a claim of retaliation, especially if the employee feels they received unfair treatment for taking leave.
By no means does a manager need to be a leave administration pro. But they do need to know how to navigate and support the general leave process. For an organization to effectively avoid legal pitfalls, managers should receive leave administration training that covers their legal responsibilities in the leave process, including:
- Understanding FMLA and state-mandated leave law eligibility
- Recognizing leave triggers
- Facilitating intermittent leave, reduced schedule leave, and return to work
- Supporting the leave administrator or HR during the leave process
Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation
Many managers do not realize that they have a legal responsibility to prevent and address discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace. Since managers are considered “agents” of their company, if they are aware of (or should have been aware of) inappropriate or harassing behavior, the company can be held liable. While a manager cannot be held liable under federal employment laws (yet), their name can be included in discrimination claims. They can be held personally liable in lawsuits or prosecutions in both civil and criminal courts. Many times, a manager does not intentionally act with negligence regarding an incident happening under their supervision. But if they have not been trained to recognize, prevent, and properly address inappropriate behavior, a legal landmine is just waiting to be tripped. The following examples of claims against supervisors display just how easy it is for an untrained manager to put their company at risk.
Defamation – A manager wants to be transparent with their team and makes a statement regarding an employee involved in a workplace harassment claim. Later, this information is proven to be untrue, and the employee seeks legal reparations from the manager and company for wrongfully damaging their reputation.
Wrongful Termination – A manager terminates an employee for what they believe to be a justifiable reason. It then comes to light that the termination was for an illegal reason and may violate federal anti-discrimination laws.
A general understanding of workplace harassment does not cut it. A supervisor must be made aware of their additional responsibilities and duties as established by employment law guidelines. Therefore, all managers should receive training that addresses the following:
- Modeling appropriate workplace behavior
- Exercising reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct inappropriate behavior
- Immediately reporting any observed or reported forms of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation
- Maintaining awareness of any inappropriate behavior occurring under their supervision
Interviewing and Hiring
Are your managers prepared to navigate the complexity of compliance laws surrounding interviewing and pre-employment screenings? The answer is likely no. While an individual may be comfortable interviewing job candidates and facilitating the hiring process, it does not mean they are aware of the ever-growing compliance considerations involved. A manager must know what topics and questions to avoid and the importance of consistency with all candidates throughout the hiring process. Today’s courts favor the job candidate’s protection, and a manager can easily say or do something that puts the company at risk. Consider the following examples.
Interview Question – While intrigued in conversation with a job candidate, a manager asks, “where is your accent from?” Even if this question came from friendly curiosity, it is one of many topics to avoid during the interview process. Asking something of this nature poses a high risk for a discrimination claim.
Ban-the-Box – Based on a hunch, a manager requests a candidate’s criminal history before making a job offer, violating a local law that prohibits asking questions about a person’s criminal history too early in the hiring process. This action not only violates the law in place but proposes a potential discrimination claim if the candidate feels they were not given a fair opportunity for the job because of their response.
The hiring process has more compliance complications than a manager may realize. Proper training is crucial to ensure that they know the dos and don’ts of each phase. Employment law is continuously evolving to ensure all candidates have an equal employment opportunity and prevent discrimination. Therefore, all managers involved in interviewing, pre-screening, and the actual hiring of employees should undergo training that covers the following:
- Awareness of topics to avoid during interviews and pre-screenings
- How to effectively guide the interview conversation within compliance
- Approaching reference checks consistently
- Employment law considerations during the hiring process
The takeaway from all of this is simple. Train your managers to avoid legal risks. With the proper training, they will have the knowledge and tools to operate within compliance guidelines. Trüpp offers training content catered to managers, focused on understanding employment law and how their actions affect the company. Get started today by incorporating training that will have your managers ready to steer clear of risks, no matter what situation comes their way.