Meticulous performance, records win promotion cases

Just about everyone with an ounce of ambition wants to be promoted. But in most organizations, there’s only so much room for managers and supervisors. Still, failure to win a promotion is one of the most frequent triggers for discrimination lawsuits.

That’s why HR should carefully track every employee’s performance and progress. Plus, you should have clear guidelines in place explaining what it takes to earn a promotion to the next level.

Encourage discussion about promotional opportunities at evaluation time. Employees who know what it takes to earn a promotion are more likely to prepare—and less likely to suspect underlying discrimination when someone else is selected, especially if the winning candidate is clearly better qualified.

Advice: Keep track of performance appraisal and promotion conversations. Then make certain personnel records reflect what the employee did or didn’t do to prepare for promotion.

Recent case: When James Harris, who worked as a state police sergeant, wasn’t promoted, he asked his supervisor what it would take. Harris learned that the department looked for candidates “who had demonstrated significant achievement at their current position, shown initiative and evidence that they could handle the responsibilities of the new position.”

Tough Talks D

But Harris apparently didn’t apply the suggestions because he frequently called in sick the day after receiving any criticism, and he got poor reviews. When he was again passed over for promotion, he sued.

The court tossed out his claim, partly because management could show that Harris’ own shortcomings disqualified him. (Harris v. State of New Jersey, et al., No. 03-2002, DC NJ, 2008)

Final note: If attitude and other soft skills such as cooperation are important, make certain your managers include those attributes—with concrete and specific examples—in employee evaluations.