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Set clear policy on promotions–and enforce it

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Good news for employers that use a formal process to invite employees to apply for promotions. Employees who don’t follow that process—instead merely telling their boss that they want to be considered—can’t successfully sue if they’re not promoted.

Recent case: Abiye is a black man of Ethiopian decent. He worked for Pall Corp. from 1992 until he quit in 2011. He started off as a lab technician, and was promoted four times. His salary grew from $23,000 to almost $60,000 during those years.

Starting in 2005, he began to complain that his salary wasn’t going up fast enough and that he wasn’t getting as many promotions as he “felt” white employees received. He couldn’t, however, point to specifics. Nonetheless, HR worked with him on a plan to gain new skills and improve his performance in order to earn more promotions.

After quitting, he sued, alleging that Pall had never considered him for several promotions. But the company pointed out that Abiye never formally applied for any of those jobs and therefore hadn’t been considered.

Abiye argued that he had, in fact, let HR know he was generally interested in job advancement. He said he also told his boss the same thing.

The court dismissed his lawsuit. Because Abiye hadn’t followed company policy and applied, he couldn’t now cry discrimination over lost promotion opportunities. (Workneh v. Pall Corporation, No. 10-CV-3479, ED NY, 2012)

Advice: Lay out clear directions for how to apply for promotions. Let employees know when and where opportunities will be posted. Then track all applications so you can later show who applied and—crucially—who did not. That way, there will be no question later about why someone who didn’t apply didn’t get promoted.

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