Employment Law?

Is it legal for a company to have two employees on the same management development programme (neither obviously better than the other) and give one obvious favouritism and subsequent promotion? Is this at the managers discretion or are there any rules governing it?

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2 Responses to “Employment Law?”

  1. coldsalineplexus Says:

    The company’s answer would be that the person who you percieve as being given "obvious favouritism" is actually the better employee, for any one of numerous non-quantifiable reasons (perhaps he or she represents the company better, has better understanding of company culture, has expressed a greater variety of new ideas or insight regarding the company, products, industry, customer base, etc.).

    The reality could be that he or she simply makes a better impression on the person making the decision–some would call this sucking up, others, as many books on career success have pointed out, would say that paying attention to your superiors’ priorities is simply good business, and makes you stand out to them as a more valuable team member.

    If neither person distinctly appears as the better candidate (i.e., numerical data pertaining to job performance are equivalent–this could be sales numbers, turnover rates among direct reports, or anything else that is measured and tracked), then the decision to promote two equally good candidates becomes based on "soft skill" perceptions that the manager has about the people. One candidate might have a better phone voice, respond to emails quicker, have hobbies that could lend themselves to higher-level management (such as golfing), be more outgoing, etc. etc. etc.

    The point is, the favouritism does not come out of thin air. Maybe the person wears suits a few times a week when the standard attire in the office is shirt and slacks. Maybe they have earned the trust of management in subtle ways through the course of their employment–respond to managers’ emails quickly and thoroughly; work through lunch or stay late regularly; attend more networking events; or it could be an attitude difference–perhaps the person has said or done things to make the manager think he or she would be better "management material."

    In most cases, managers really do realize that they are there to do their job to the best benefit of the company they are representing and that is paying their salary. Usually, management even stands to earn bonuses based on the performance of the part of the company which is directly related to the management decisions they make. Therefore they try to hire and promote those whose later actions with the company will make them look like good decision-makers to their own superiors.

    The only situation where this "favouritism" could be illegal is if the candidates are equally qualified and the one being passed over for promotion belongs to one of the protected classes for employment purposes. In the USA, you will see most companies have statements on their job applications and other HR materials stating that they are equal opportunity employers. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, http://www.eeoc.gov/ , this means that they don’t discriminate based on age, disability, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, or sex.

    Some categories that are NOT protected are body art, hair styles, appropriate attire, grooming, attitude, personability, salesmanship, eye contact, knowledge of current events… Employers can and do make decisions based on these factors all the time, and they are areas in which candidates might want to educate themselves further if they know that they are important to their boss or prospective employer.

    If the person passed over for promotion is a woman and the person promoted is a man, the woman could allege that the decision made was discriminatory on the basis of her sex, and an investigation would follow. She would probably need to seek legal council.

    Exceptions are known as "bona fide occupational qualifications" that justify otherwise prohibited discrimination. An example would be if the company said that they had to hire a male to be a men’s fitting room attendant.

    In conclusion, the decision to promote, while it is based somewhat on current job performance, also must include speculation on how the employee will handle the job for which he or she is being considered. Especially in the case of those hoping to be promoted to management, as in your example, the decision will be made with strong consideration given to people skills, listening skills, perceived authority, ability to carry out company policy, and existing rapport with potential direct reports. These are all areas which someone hoping to be promoted should focus their energies. Additionally, those who have recently been passed over for promotion should resist the urge to retaliate against the person who was promoted. Stay close to that person, learn his or her new job priorities, help him or her make a smooth transition by being supportive and helpful. If in fact he or she is a "favourite," he or she may well soon be in a position to advance others’ careers, too.

  2. CatLaw Says:

    From a legal standpoint, an employer must not make decisions based on discrimination of age, sex, race, color, ethnic/national origin, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. Employers are also required to follow Union and Employment contracts. If you are not under a contract you are considered an ‘at will’ employee, with your only the protection the above list of discrimination bases.

    Favoritism that is not based on the discrimination bases is not against the law. The only other rules that could possibly touch your managers would be the rules and policies of the company. However, depending on the rule or policy broken that may not rise to the level of being considered discrimination.

    You are fighting a non-win situation unless you can prove discrimination by the bases listed.