Failing to training and educate managers and supervisors is one of the biggest mistakes any business can make and one that creates one of the biggest risk areas for any business. Training your managers is the easiest way to avoid this risk.

Everyone makes mistakes — that’s to be expected. However, certain manager mistakes can result in big hits to the company’s bottom line. The following are several examples of manager mistakes that have resulted in huge payouts in court. Don’t let your managers become one of these examples.

Failure to Document
Documentation is an employers best friend when it comes to making those tough employment decisions. However, many managers fail to accurately document an employee’s performance or do not document at all. Makes sure your managers understand how important a tool accurately documenting performance is.

Bob became concerned of Phil’s performance within the first year of employment. Phil was slacking off and wasn’t meeting his sales goals. Nevertheless, when annual performance reviews came around — Phil received a glowing review. Phil’s performance didn’t improve in the second year. That didn’t stop Bob from praising Phil in an email to company executives. Nevertheless, one month later, Bob fired Phil for failing to perform to standards. As you can imagine, that was news to Phil, who brought suit.

We get it — no one likes being the bearer of bad news. However, avoiding the problem now only leads to bigger problems later. Be honest with employees–they deserve that much from their supervisors and its the only way they will have the opportunity to fix the issue. Document any performance issues and any corrective measures taken. You may have some temporary discomfort now, but will avoid permanent agony at a later date.

Not Paying Overtime
Under federal and state law, all nonexempt employees must be paid for all time worked, including any overtime. It is important that your workers and their managers understand the importance of this point.

Sally is one of your nonexempt employees. She is an excellent employee, willing to go above and beyond. Sally always responds to emails, even if it is outside office hours. Sally takes business calls during her commute to and from the office each day. Sally will stay late to finish a project, just to make sure it gets completed and she meets or exceeds every deadline. Sally never asked or expected overtime pay for any of this.

Unfortunately for you, her co-worker Bob, who found himself in the same boat as Sally, but without Sally’s same enthusiasm, filed a lawsuit seeking damages, back pay, and attorneys fees for himself as well as a large group of fellow employees, including Sally.

What is the lesson here? If you do not want to pay your workers overtime, don’t allow them to work in excess of 40 hours in a week or 8 hours in a day. That includes checking emails, making business-related phone calls, or any other work when employees are off-the-clock. Make sure your workers are tracking their time appropriately and if any overtime is worked, that you are paying your employees accordingly.

Misguided Paternalism
Empowering your employees means being flexible, not making decisions for them. Don’t make assumptions about an employee’s ambitions or what opportunities he or she should pursue. While you (and your supervisors) may have the best intentions, you may be unwittingly setting yourself up for legal trouble.

XYZ Company prided itself on supporting women in the workplace, which included providing flexibility with leave and other benefits. However, XYZ’s chief operating officer, Sally, often complained about the impact of their generous leave policies on the business.

This outlook was shared by Donna, the manager of a team that needed a project leader. During a team meeting, Donna suggested that some of the women in the group might not be interested in the opportunity because they had children and wouldn’t be able to commit to additional time away from them. The following day one of those female employees went to human resources with her concerns that she was not being treated fairly. Unfortunately, human resources did not take her concerns seriously because of the company’s position. A team leader was chosen and it wasn’t any of the women on the team.

Subsequently, the same female employee applied for a high-level position and didn’t get it. Understandably frustrated, she filed suit alleging discrimination and retaliation.

It is important that your supervisors understand that their decisions need to be based on who is the best candidate, considering non-personal factors. Further, HR professionals need to be mindful of how they handle employee concerns in this area. Just because the company’s position is one way does not mean you summarily dismiss an employee’s complaint to the contrary.

Playing Favorites
Everyone has someone they like more than other people. This is true in the workplace as well as in your personal life. Whether its because the employee is willing to take on additional tasks or is always pleasant while everyone else seems indifferent, these actions color the way a supervisor perceives an employee. However, supervisors should never let these preferences affect how they oversee employees.

John promoted Harry, a good employee and trusted friend, to a supervisory position. John often talked openly with Harry about his misgivings with other employees. Based on these conversation, Harry began to take a more stern approach with the employees that John often talked to him about. One of these employees, Phil, felt that he was being disciplined and treated differently than other employees for the same conduct and filed a claim of discrimination with the EEOC. When interviewed by the EEOC, Harry admitted to treating Phil differently based on John’s comments. Things did not end well for the employer.

It’s important to emphasis with your supervisors: keep the focus on employee performance, not on how you feel about the employee personally.

Compliance Miscalculations
Most employers understand that they are subject to labor and employment laws. At the same time, these same employers fail to consider all of the potential laws that apply to the situation. As such, many supervisors have tunnel vision regarding what potential landmines exist.

Sally filed a claim against her employer, Joan, claiming that she was fired due to her health. Joan knew that Sally wasn’t eligible for FMLA when she terminated Sally for attendance issues and believed that she was in the clear. Unfortunately, as her attorney advised her, Sally may have a claim under the ADA as it did not appear that Sally’s supervisor or human resources had tried to accommodate her before terminating her.

It’s important to carefully analyze all potential risk areas before terminating an employee. Seeking counsel from an outside party can be helpful.

Failing to Accommodate
Considering an accommodation so that an employee can continue working may be the easiest way to avoid potential legal trouble. However, it is often overlooked or ignored. The key is to engage in the interactive process; whether a reasonable accommodation can be made is secondary.

Donna worked as a hairdresser at a nursing home and routinely would transport residents in wheelchairs to and from the salon to do their hair. After undergoing surgery, Donna had a permanent pushing restriction of 50 pounds–meaning pushing residents in wheelchairs would no longer be feasible. Donna suggested having someone assist her by pushing the wheelchair-bound residents to the salon. Her employer summarily rejected the idea and refused to restructure her job duties. Donna quit and brought suit alleging ADA violations.

Don’t find yourself in hot water because a supervisor said no to an accommodation without engaging in the interactive process. You may not be able to make an accommodation, but you should take the time to consider the accommodation before dismissing it.

Ignoring Bullying
Bullying isn’t one of those things that will just go away if you ignore it. In fact, in many cases, ignoring workplace bullying can escalate the problem and result in legal action. Make sure your supervisors understand that bullying, even if it doesn’t amount to unlawful harassment, is not tolerated.

ABC Company conducted annual training on harassment and it’s anti-harassment policy. The training neglected to cover bullying because leadership didn’t believe it was a legal issue, especially when it isn’t directed at any protected classes or is directed at everyone (i.e. the equal opportunity offender). An employee filed suit alleging abuse and harassment by his manager. The company did not fair well.

Even if bullying doesn’t result in a claim being filled against the company, what company wants to be known for having that type of work environment? Do not become known as the employer who tolerates an abusive work environment.


The Nevada Association of Employers (NAE) offers several training programs for managers and supervisors covering the essentials of being a supervisor, including how to avoid many of the risks noted above. You do not have to be a member of NAE to take advantage of these training programs, but there are many advantages to being a member of NAE. For more information about NAE and what we do for Nevada employers, visit our website. If you are a Nevada employer interested in membership, please contact membership@nevadaemployers.org or join today!