3 FRD Mistakes Good Supervisors Make

Mar 25, 2024

Family responsibilities discrimination rarely springs from spite and malice. Almost always, as I am quick to point out in FRD prevention trainings, supervisors are trying to do the right thing for their companies and even for their employees when they cross the line into discriminatory action. Unfortunately, the road to the courthouse is paved with supervisors’ good intentions. Here are three mistakes well-meaning supervisors make:

1) Trying to hire the “best” employees by rejecting caregivers: Employers need employees who can get the job done. Supervisors have to hire employees who are able to do the work, do it well, and do it on time. They often make stereotypical assumptions about which types of employees will best fit the bill, which includes trying not to hire applicants who have or will have distracting family obligations. This leads to sex-based interview questions about family planning, childcare, travel capability, and availability for overtime – and also to illegal sex-based hiring decisions. Hiring women who are single and child-free does not insulate the employer from liability for sex discrimination, and the supervisor’s pattern of hiring decisions will be exhibit A at trial. (Solution: train supervisors about the business reasons for avoiding FRD and about how to recognize and stop stereotyped assumptions; create protocols and implement monitoring to ensure legal hiring.)

2) Trying to be supportive of caregivers: Supporting caregivers and all employees is good management that can increase employee loyalty and productivity. Done incorrectly, however, it leads to lawsuits. When supervisors make decisions for caregivers based on assumptions about what they can or should do, they are on thin ice. For example, taking a new mother off assignments that require long hours or turning down a mother for a promotion that would involve travel may be motivated by a desire to do the right thing, but may force the mother into dead end careers (think: mommy track) by freezing her out of the experiences she needs to advance. (Solution: ask the caregiver if he or she would like the assignment or promotion, rather than assuming or deciding for him or her.)

3) Trying to teach caregivers how to juggle work and family: Good supervisors help employees develop their abilities using a variety of techniques such as goal setting, counseling, modeling, and coaching. Supervisors run into trouble, however, when their efforts stray into the personal and family arenas. Examples of supervisor errors: counseling fathers that childcare should be their wives’ responsibility, advising new mothers that they should stop breastfeeding, questioning the medical needs of an aging parent, setting attendance or performance goals for caregivers but not other employees, limiting talk in the workplace about children but not other topics like sports, and disciplining caregivers but not others for personal phone calls. (Solution: train supervisors about good management techniques, how to reduce the influence of unconscious bias about caregivers, and FRD legal liability.)

© Cynthia Thomas Calvert.

Categories: Blog

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