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What is Direct Supervision?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Direct supervision is a term that is used to refer to situations in which a supervisor is present at all times. The supervisor oversees activities as they occur and provides constant direction, feedback, and assistance. For some types of workplaces, direct supervision is required for safety and health reasons. In others, it may be strongly recommended to make a workplace run more smoothly.

One example of a workplace in which direct supervision is required is in a medical practice. Technicians may need direct supervision for performing certain types of procedures. While they are authorized to do these procedures, they cannot do them without being monitored by a doctor. For example, a dentist may be required to supervise a dental hygienist during certain types of dental procedures. Likewise, a veterinarian must be present for some procedures performed by a veterinary technician.

Another setting in which direct supervision is used is prisons and jails. In a facility that uses this approach to managing inmates, people are incarcerated in “pods,” which consist of cells that surround a public day area. A corrections officer works in the day area, not a private office or secured area, interacting directly with inmates when they are out of their cells. This allows for rapid intervention in the event that problems develop and it also provides a mechanism for monitoring behavior to offer rewards for good behavior.

A direct supervisor is physically present and can respond to issues which arise. This can be a distinct benefit in many environments where people need to act quickly and may benefit from input from an experienced supervisor. The supervisor can also step in if a situation gets out of control in order to assist with stabilizing the situation. In settings like jails and hospitals, this is obviously very important for health and safety reasons. In other environments, it can prevent costly mistakes and streamline the performance of work duties.

In a situation which direct supervision is required by law, but was not provided, legal liabilities arise. The person who is supposed to be supervising can be held liable for negligence, as can the workplace. Under the respondent superior doctrine, which states that employers can be obliged to answer for the actions of people in their employ, employers can be held liable for actions of their employees. It is possible to sue for damages in cases where direct supervision was required and did not occur.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By burcidi — On May 21, 2011

I understand why there is direct supervision in workplaces and environments where you need discipline and experience for security and health reasons. But sometimes, so much supervision might not be necessary.

When I was in athletic training, for example, we were under direct supervision all the time. Of course, there should be some supervision, in case something goes wrong. But I feel that in an environment where you are trying to learn and experiment with new things, direct supervision can be a bit limiting if it's overdone.

What do you think?

By turquoise — On May 19, 2011

My sister is a special education teacher. She works with a paraprofessional who helps her in the classroom, teaching and interacting with the kids. She cannot leave the paraprofessional alone to teach though because she is required to supervise him at all times.

In fact, I think it's a state law for her to do so. It might be because my sister is the one who prepares the curriculum, so she would not know how the teaching assistant is doing if she isn't there personally.

By ysmina — On May 16, 2011

I'm an associate engineer at a company and I am under general supervision. So I work on my own but do need to be supervised in some situations.

We also have assistant engineers and they have to be under direct supervision because they don't have as much experience yet and they are still learning how to do things.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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