Steps to Stay Out of Trouble Caused by Supervisors

by Michael Haberman on November 30, 2012 · 0 comments


Take steps to reduce the liability that supervisor actions may cause.

As I wrote about yesterday supervisors are a hotly contested issue. But we have all known that for quite a while. Supervisors are the closest managerial representative to the employees. The have significant influence over employees, hopefully for good, but not always. So here are steps to stay out of trouble caused by supervisors.

Train them

The first step it to provide some training to your supervisors. We in American business do a notoriously bad job of making sure our supervisors are trained and prepared to take on their job. We assume that by bestowing the title “Supervisor” on them we have imbued them with all the knowledge they need to have to be a supervisor. Well let me tell you, having been in that position before, you don’t come ready to “operate right out of the box.” A new supervisor may operate using their supervisor as a model. That may be good if they had a good supervisor, but what if they had a very poor supervisor? Are we going to assume they know how to correct things? Bad assumption!

People stuff

In many situations supervisors are put into positions of now managing people they worked side-by-side with the day before. That is a difficult switch to make overnight. They need to know how to do things like:

  • Enforce policies without running roughshod over the employee
  • How to conduct a disciplinary meeting
  • How to conduct a performance appraisal
  • How to conduct an interview

They need to know company policies and they need to understand their obligations under the law. Teach them how to identify and avoid:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Discrimination
  • General biases
  • Retaliation

HR stuff

Some of the things you can do from an HR perspective, other than the training suggested above, include:

  • Make sure all your anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and anti-retaliation policies are up to date. That way when you train people they are getting up-to-date information.
  • Make sure the supervisor’s job description it current. Is their level of authority properly spelled out in that job description?
  • Investigate promptly and thoroughly any reported incident of improper action reported to you by the supervisor or about the supervisor.
  • Keep tabs on supervisors, especially new ones, in how they are dealing with people. Offer your observations in order to “course correct” a supervisor before problems are created.

Remember that supervisors are employees too. They need to have managers that can effectively do with them all the things they are expected to do with their employees.


Remember the courts have already said you are liable for the actions of your supervisors’ actions, regardless of whether you knew about it or not. That is what defines vicarious liability. Save your company and yourself the trouble by being proactive and giving your supervisors the tools to do an effective job.

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