Do promotion criteria rely on company or job seniority? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Do promotion criteria rely on company or job seniority?

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If your organization uses seniority as a factor in making promotion decisions, make sure you think through what sort of seniority you really want to use.

seniority tallies up total time with the employer. Job seniority counts time spent in a particular job. Both are perfectly valid factors—as long as you apply them consistently.

Advice: However, it is best to pick one to avoid confusion, resentment and possible legal action. Make sure managers and employees alike understand which type of seniority counts for promotions.

Recent case: Philadelphia Gas employee Fidel Mills, who is black and claims to be disabled by obesity, has a history of filing discrimination charges. When his employer passed him over for promotions in two open senior driver positions, Mills thought the reason might be discrimination.

Philadelphia Gas explained that Mills never got an interview because two other employees had more time with the company. They were promoted based on a long-standing seniority program that gave jobs to the most senior employees who were qualified for the positions. The policy used time with the employer as a key factor for selecting candidates for promotion.

Mills sued, alleging discrimination. The trial court threw out his case, reasoning that the company had a right to use a seniority system.

Then Mills appealed, for the first time alleging that the company violated its own rule. Mills claimed the policy said time on the job counted, not total years with the company.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals refused to consider the question—but strictly because Mills hadn’t raised the issue earlier. It let the dismissal stand. (Mills v. Philadelphia Gas Works, No. 07-2481, 3rd Cir., 2008)

Final note: This was a close call. Apparently, the company policy did say the seniority that counted was time on the job, not total time with the company. Make sure your managers know what your policy is.

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