Q: I have an employee who shows signs of talent and ambition. Is it legally possible to fast-track him into a higher position without stepping on others’ toes?
A: Generally, there are no legal rules applying specifically to promotion, but you should treat promoting employees very similarly to recruiting these initially, applying all the same rules and practices that your business would do during recruitment. While it is legal to promote a newer employee over an older one, employers should take note of certain issues which could arise from this, such as ill-feeling in the workplace.
Not advertising the position internally could be discriminatory to those of your employees who are qualified for the role and would have applied for the higher position had they known about it. Be aware that you risk a tribunal claim on the grounds of discrimination if you do not offer the chance to apply for the position because of a protected characteristic. An example of this would be if the rest of the workforce is female and the role is offered immediately to a male employee. Or if a requirement was applied to the role which would adversely affect the rest of the workforce, which is why they were not considered – for example, the requirement that this newer employee has better qualifications or newer ideas than older, longer-serving employees.
If you do not carry out a full recruitment process, you should create a written record of your reasons for appointing this employee to the higher position, making sure that these reasons are not discriminatory. Keep the reasons objective, and produce evidence. This could be evidence of how the employee showed signs of talent and ambition, or evidence which shows that current employees do not have these skills. Assumptions should not be relied upon, especially as these employees have never been employed in the higher position so have not had the opportunity to show whether they are capable of carrying out that particular role.
If you do decide to promote the employee to the higher position, then you should take steps to ensure other employees do not feel put out. All managers should give newly-promoted employees support and enough time to prove themselves in the role, making sure that the employee in the higher role treats those in lower positions reasonably and correctly. Otherwise there is the potential for insubordination if the higher position contains elements of management.
Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula