7 practical tips for effective supervision

7 practical tips for effective supervision

1. Tell Employees the Truth And Avoid Surprises

This tip applies to policy violations, attendance or tardiness issues, coaching sessions, performance evaluations and other employment decisions. Legal disputes may ultimately turn on credibility, thus employers cannot afford to be viewed as not credible. Telling different “stories” may also undermine an employer’s ability to dispose of a case quickly. 

Even though many supervisors may prefer to avoid delivering “bad news,” telling the truth is an important aspect of their jobs. Of course, how they tell the truth is critical. Supervisors must communicate clearly while being sensitive and respectful to the employee’s perspective. 

Many lawsuits result from anger or hurt feelings, which may be the result of an employee being surprised by a termination. But if communication is truthful and direct, employees should never be surprised by notice of a termination. The employee may not agree with the supervisor’s decision, but should never be able to say he or she did not see it coming. 

2. Get Both Sides of the Story 

No matter how egregious or clear-cut the facts appear to be, supervisors should always give accused employees a chance to tell their side of the story. Most workers feel they are entitled to this basic element of “due process” and may file lawsuits when it is lacking. 

3. Keep Your Promises And Don’t Make Promises You Cannot Keep

Employees can file claims for breach of contract when their employers make promises they don’t keep. Supervisors should not make oral promises such as, “As long as you do your job, you will always have a place here.” Moreover, as a practical matter, supervisors who break promises to give raises or evaluations at a particular time risk losing their credibility or causing employees to be unhappy. 

4. Document Important Facts 

Important details can easily get lost in today’s fast-paced work environment. Make a habit of documenting key facts when they occur. Be sure the documentation is dated, legible and understandable. Always include objective language describing who, what, when, where, how and why and identifying witnesses. Identify the author and recipients of the documentation. If appropriate, make sure the employee acknowledges receipt of the document. 

As a corollary, supervisors should not just hit “send” on emails without thoroughly reviewing their emails. Email is discoverable and just as impactful as hard copies of documents. Needless to say, email provides fertile ground for both sides in employment cases. A quick, off-hand message has the potential to be extremely embarrassing if presented, out of context, to a jury. Therefore, it is never a good idea to fire off quick responses, especially when emotions are running high. Wait a few moments before hitting “send” — and be especially careful about using the “reply to all” button. 

5. Do Not Ignore Protected Status In Making Employment Decisions 

When considering disciplinary action, it is always important to consider how you have handled similar situations in the past. If an employee in a protected classification (race, sex, religion, age, disability, etc.) is treated differently under the same circumstances from someone who is not in the protected class, supervisors must be able to justify the reasons clearly. 

When considering which employees fall in a protected classification, don’t overlook employees who recently took leave, sought an accommodation or provided information in response to a workplace investigation. These activities protect employees from retaliation and likewise require consideration of comparable situations in which no employee had engaged in protected activity. 

6. Never Forget That You Are The Boss 

Even during breaks, after hours, on weekends or away from the workplace, supervisors still carry the mantle of authority for the practice. Unguarded, inappropriate or “joking” comments can come back to haunt supervisors. When an employment relationship goes bad, seemingly innocuous comments often emerge. Comments made in jest rarely look good in front of a jury. 

7. Ask Yourself: “How Would An Outsider View My Actions?” 

As a final sanity check on employment decisions, strive to be fair and ask yourself: “How would this look to a third party (like the EEOC or a jury) who knows nothing about me or the employee?” 


The workplace is complex and demanding, especially for supervisors in small practices juggling deadlines, insurance, and legal issues and trying to maintain positive employee and patient relations. While they are not a “cure-all,” these tips can help supervisors manage more effectively and avoid legal liability for workplace decisions. 


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