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December 16, 2016

Business FYI – Begging for lawsuits? Stupid things supervisors say

KellieBoysenIt is vital that all company managers and supervisors are properly trained. Even basic training on how to handle sticky situations as they arise could help your company avoid a disaster. A manager who says things out of haste, who speaks before thinking, could bring a lawsuit or an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint to your doorstep. Here are some examples of what your supervisors should not be saying:

You’re giving two weeks’ notice? Why don’t you just make today your last day. You’re fired.

By saying this, the supervisor has just turned a voluntary resignation with little potential for a lawsuit into a termination with some possibility of legal action. If this employee was considering a suit — for example, about harassment — the termination may provoke them into pursuing it.

In these circumstances, some companies prefer to ask an employee to leave immediately out of concern for the employee’s access to sensitive company data. That’s fine, but don’t call it a termination. Considerate treatment is so much less expensive.

Are you married? What are your plans for a family?

This seems like it might be a good interview question, but it’s not — it’s a dangerous one.

Supervisors should not ask potential employees about marriage or family. “Are you pregnant?” “Do you have childcare responsibilities?” Don’t ask questions like these — they always suggest a discriminatory motive.

Oh, what a lovely accent — where are you from?

Any comments or questions about racial, ethnic and religious identity are inappropriate for supervisors to ask employees and potential employees.

You’re fired, and I don’t have to give you any reason because your employment is “at will.”

In many states — including Pennsylvania — and in many situations, this statement may be true. That being said, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.

When a supervisor gives no reason for a termination, your company leaves the door open for discrimination lawsuits. “You fired me because I am [insert race, sex, age].” Soon you’ll be in court trying to lean on your “at-will” defense and looking quite vulnerable.

Giving a false reason for the termination is as bad or worse. For example, saying that the termination is due to “budgetary reasons” when it is not will make for trouble when your company hires a new employee to do a job that you stated was not in the budget.

I think you are depressed. You should see someone.

Comments like this can be made with the best intentions, but they can have major repercussions. Asking/commenting about medical conditions and disabilities is dangerous because it puts you on the record as regarding the employee as having a disability.

In these situations, focus on the job requirements and how the person is failing to meet them. “You’re late,” “Your reports are not in on time,” “You’re not wearing protective equipment,” etc.

You’re going to take five weeks off to “bond”? I don’t think so.

Who wants to lose a good worker during a busy time? That is understandable, but the rules regarding leave — including the Family and Medical Leave Act as well as many state regulations — are dangerous territory, and untrained managers and supervisors are better off not going there. Make your rule a simple one: when people ask for time off, talk to human resources.

Now that we’ve reviewed that, read some things that supervisors should say.

About Kellie Boysen – Owner, Alternative HR:

Kellie Boysen is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) with more than a decade of HR experience. She owns Alternative HR, a local human resource consulting and outsourcing organization that is dedicated to providing small business owners with an affordable alternative to hiring a full-time HR professional.