The Legal Responsibilities of Supervisors and Managers Must Be Communicated

Supervisors and managers play an incredibly important role in the lives of your employees.  The legal responsibilities of supervisors and managers at work are understated and left unsaid, can be of serious consequence.

How many supervisors and managers are trained in their responsibility to provide a “safe psychological workplace” for their employees?

I was delivering a training session (Respectful Conduct in the Workplace for Supervisors and Managers) for a client a while ago.

After I had spoken to the group about their legal responsibility to respond to situations once they became aware of them (a.k.a. their ‘duty to act’), a senior manager’s hand went up:

“Phil, I have a question for you. Hypothetically…”

(I’ve learned that when someone starts a sentence with “hypothetically,” it’s usually followed by a true story)

“Hypothetically…What if I’m on my day off having lunch with a friend of mine who happens to be someone I’ve supervised at work for years? What if my friend then tells me about a situation of potential bullying in the workplace? That doesn’t obligate me to do this ‘duty to act,’ because this is just between friends on a day off, right?”

What Should A Supervisor or Manager Do?

As he finished the question, I slowly looked around the room at the 30 plus other faces that were there.

I wanted to gauge whether the other participants were glad this question was asked, or whether they would roll their eyes at this seemingly obvious answer.

Before I go on, consider your workplace for a moment.

How do you think your supervisors and managers would respond to this hypothetical question?

Even though I consider myself a pretty good read of people’s body language (35 plus years of handling humans as a police officer will do that to you), I wasn’t certain where the majority of the room sat on this issue.

So, after a suitable, but not uncomfortable pause, I answered my client.

Supervisors and Managers are Legally Responsible to take Action

As a supervisor, it doesn’t matter where you happen to be, under what circumstances (at lunch on a day off), or how you find out (voicemail, email, sticky note, or even a 3rd party), the fact that you are now aware of an issue in the workplace, creates a duty to take action.

Now, exactly what that action and response might mean will depend on the circumstances. 

But no matter what, the very first thing to be done, is to inform Human Resources.

What is the Role of Human Resources?

I don’t want to give the impression that HR is the default team for dealing with this, because that’s not what I mean nor is it their primary role.

But, they are a RESOURCE. It’s actually in their name!  They are there to provide expert guidance and sage advice.

Training Available for the Legal Responsibilities of Supervisors and Managers

We developed the Respectful Conduct in the Workplace workshop specifically for Supervisors and Managers to help eliminate this confusion of what these leadership roles entail.

Within the workshop we cover the elements of their organization’s Respectful Workplace Policy and how to interpret their role and responsibilities within the policy.

We have boiled it down to five Roles & Legal Responsibilities of Supervisors and Managers

  •  Know the Respectful Workplace Policy
  •  Make Expectations Clear Regarding Behavior and Conduct
  •  Know the Warning Signs
  •  Respond to Concerns and Complaints
  •  Be Aware

#1: Know the Respectful Workplace Policy:

A key role for managers is explaining the options available to any employee who brings forward a concern. Managers must therefore be aware of their organizations respectful workplace policy.

 #2: Make Expectations Clear Regarding Behavior and Conduct

Managers have a responsibility to protect employees from harassment in the workplace and to clarify which behaviors are unacceptable.

 #3: Know the Warning Signs

Employees may be reluctant to bring forward complaints. This can result in the situation getting worse, making it more difficult to resolve once you actually hear about it.

That’s why it’s important to be a proactive manager. Keep your antennae up and identify issues right away so you can intervene early.

Respond to Concerns and Complaints

When someone brings a concern or a complaint to you, you may be the very first person to hear about it. Your response is therefore critical.

Remember, your role as a manager is not to investigate the concern or complaint, but to provide the complainant with information about their options.

Be Aware of the Culture and Atmosphere in Your Workplace

You must be constantly aware of the culture and atmosphere in your workplace.

Always keep in mind that you, by your words, actions, and demonstrated attitude, set the tone and standard for the behavior that your workers exhibit. Be prepared to take action when you encounter or become aware of harassing or bullying behaviors.

You have a legal responsibility to challenge inappropriate comments or jokes and to remove offensive pictures, cartoons, calendars, or screensavers.

Don’t Wait for Official Complaints

As we’ve learned, some managers think that they only have to take action to address harassment or bullying when an official complaint is received.

You now know that this is not the case.

Do you think that your managers and supervisors know this also? Are they aware of these five basic roles and responsibilities?

If not, please share them, and attach a copy of your organizational policy. The two go hand in hand.