While employers are quick to train their office managers and human resource personnel on key employment law concepts, they frequently overlook the importance of training those on the front line—their supervisors—on employment law basics.  This mistake can expose your business to liability and can hamstring your ability to terminate poor performers.  Consider five other reasons to train your supervisors in the new year. 

1. Supervisors need to know enough to flag problems.

Chances are, your human resource professionals know the law and the protocols your business has in place so they can ensure they are followed.  Your supervisors, however, may not.  If they don’t, they may not have the knowledge they need to alert your in‑house human resource experts.  For example, imagine an employee with a recently‑diagnosed medical problem—potentially a disability—struggling to perform the essential functions of their job.  If this employee requests assistance from their supervisor, the supervisor may not know enough to identify this request as a potential ADA accommodation and may not flag your human resource professionals.  This could expose your business to an ADA claim if the request is improperly handled.  Simple training on the ADA could avoid such a scenario.

2. Training can be a defense in a harassment case.

The United States Supreme Court feels so strongly about supervisor training that it has ruled that an employer may assert certain defenses in harassment cases if it takes the time to train its supervisors on the law.  Supervisor training ensures your business could take advantage of this defense, if the need ever arises.

3. A disgruntled former employee faces an easier burden of proof if it brings a lawsuit based on the misconduct of a supervisor.

The law presumes that your supervisors should know better than to harass your employees.  Accordingly, if a current or former employee claims that a supervisor harassed them, they face an easier burden of proof than if they bring a claim based on the misconduct of a co‑worker without supervisory duties.  Training your supervisors on what to do (and what not to do) reduces the chance that they will do something that exposes your business to liability.

4. Supervisor documentation is essential.

Every savvy human resource professional knows that good documentation, such as progressive discipline documenting performance problems, or emails related to coaching and development, can provide a defense in a discrimination case.  However, a supervisor who does not understand the importance of written documentation may bypass the time it takes to complete written documents.  Many a discrimination case was based entirely on a lack of written documentation, and training can help your supervisors understand why their documents are essential.

5. The law is changing and your policies may be, too.

The law is constantly changing and evolving and while human resource professionals may be able to keep up, it is unreasonable to think that your supervisors will do the same.  For example, many cities throughout Idaho passed local ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and/or sexual orientation in 2013.  Even if your supervisors were trained on the law three years ago, they may not know these laws exist and the impact they may have on your workplace.  Likewise, your internal policies and/or handbook provisions may have changed to reflect new law.  Your supervisors cannot enforce policies they are not aware of.  Training ensures that everyone at your business is on the same page and is up to date on the law.

CONCLUSION

In 2015, employers seeking to avoid the time, inconvenience and potential liability associated with employment claims such as those for wrongful termination, harassment, discrimination and retaliation, will train their supervisors on the law and any related changes in internal policies.  The fix is easy and can usually be accomplished with a minimal investment of time—usually a one‑hour training session can cover the essentials.