Proper training of company managers and supervisors is a must. Even basic training on how to handle sticky situations as they arise could help your company avoid landing in hot water. A manager who says things out of haste, without any thought before saying them, could bring a lawsuit, EEOC complaint, or similar on your doorstep. Here are some examples of what your managers should not be saying:
You’re giving two weeks notice? Why don’t you just make today your last day. You’re fired.
They have just turned a voluntary resignation with little potential for a lawsuit into a termination with some possibility of legal action. If this person was considering a suit, for example, about harassment, the termination may well push him or her over the edge. Some organizations prefer to ask an employee in these circumstances to leave immediately, because they are concerned about the employee’s access to delicate computer systems or company data, for example. That’s fine, but no need to call it a termination. Considerate treatment is a lot less expensive.
Are you married, and what are your plans for a family?
This seems as though it might be a good interview question, but it’s a dangerous one. Marriage and family questions are out. Are you pregnant? Do you have childcare responsibilities? You can’t ask questions along these lines because they always suggest a discriminatory motive
Oh, what a lovely accent—where are you from?
Any racial, ethnic, and religious questions and comments are out of bounds. No judge or jury will believe it was an innocent question.
Do you really want to transfer to a job that has so much travel with those cute young children?
This is what we call a “patronizing” question. It’s going to be held to be discriminatory, and doubly so if it is asked of only women.
You’re fired and I don’t have to give you any reason because your employment is ‘at will.’
In many states and many situations, this statement is probably true. That being said, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. When you give no reason, you leave 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 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 you hire a new employee and negate the budgetary reason.
I think you are depressed. Shouldn’t you see somebody?
Comments like this are made with the best of intentions, but they can have disastrous repercussions. Asking or commenting about medical conditions and disabilities is always dangerous because now you are on record as “regarding” the employee as having a disability. In these situations, keep the 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. Then simply ask, what can I do to help?
You’re going to take 5 weeks off to “bond”? I don’t think so.
It’s natural to react this way—who wants to lose a good worker during a busy time? But the rules regarding leave—including the Family and Medical Leave Act and a myriad of state regulations—are treacherous territory. Untrained managers and supervisors should not enter there. Make your rule a simple one—when people ask for time off, talk to HR.
Here are some things that supervisors should say…
1) These are our policies.
Your employees should be familiar with policies that pertain to them. The policies probably range from work rules on gambling, fighting, and drugs to how to apply for FMLA leave and report harassment.
Go over them at meetings, orientation sessions, whenever you can fit it in, and get employees to sign off that they understand what the policies say. Annual reminders are also a good idea.
2) These are my expectations for you.
Make it clear to employees what your expectations are. Always establish measurable goals if possible
- What should they accomplish, and how should they accomplish it?
- How many?
- How much?
- How accurate?
- How often?
3) Here is how you are currently doing.
Talk to people about how they are doing at meeting the expectations. Don’t wait for formally mandated annual review time—talk regularly so employees have a chance to improve. When talking about performance, be honest. There are few things more pathetic than a manager trying to explain how a terminated employee’s performance could have been “so poor we had to fire him” when his appraisals show all “Satisfactory” ratings and/ or the employee was given a raise.