While many of us are good at what we do, sometimes it is not the work but the workplace that poses more of a challenge. Keeping a job and loving it at the same time can be challenging. Likewise, relationships are difficult, no matter what kind they are.
Being cordial, respectful, and professional at all times is crucial despite having intellectual or ideological differences with your colleagues and superiors when it comes to working. Your personal preferences should never overshadow your professional decisions.
And yet, some employers fail to keep them in mind. It is often seen that a boss’s grudges often come in the way of an employee’s success. But no one is above the law, and there are some things that even your boss cannot do. Most of the time, one falls prey to the whims of employers. It happens because one is not aware of what an employer cannot do legally, and trying to enforce anything on an employee can give the latter the right to sue the employer.
The National Labor Relations Act, along with quite a few other statutes, falls under the purview of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Accordingly, they consistently strive to ensure that employees do not have to face hostile work environments. Further, it ensures that employees do not have to bear the brunt of unfair labor practices.
Things Your Boss Cannot Do Legally in The Workplace
Here are some things that an employer cannot do to you, no matter which industry you are employed in.
1. Asking Prohibited or Personal Questions
Your boss cannot ask you prohibited or personal questions, no matter if you are meeting at the workplace or during an informal occasion like an office event after-party. For example, some of these questions might be pertaining to your sexual orientation, sexual preferences, marital status, or any other personal detail relating to your home or family.
They also cannot ask you questions regarding your previous workplace, asking you to divulge details about the previous company you worked for. Not answering any of these questions is well within your rights. The employer cannot take away any privileges from you for refusing to answer them.
2. Signing Broad Non-Compete Agreements
Non-compete agreements are becoming quite popular among organizations these days in an effort to reduce competition and prevent trade secrets from getting out. Usually, such an agreement states that an employee would not work for a rival company in the same field for a stipulated period after leaving the current organization.
While some agreements are carefully and reasonably worded, others are too vague and too broad in their concept, which might prevent the employee from finding work in the same industry. That is unfair as any experience the employee may have is related to that field.
At the most, the agreement could state the employee might not work for a similar organization within a 25-mile radius or something close. But, of course, an employer cannot force you to sign such vague non-compete agreements.
3. Discussing Salary With Co-workers
It is often said that discussing salary, perks, and compensation packages with co-workers is not often a good idea, leading to workplace tensions. However, being unaware of the salary structure of the organization can keep you on a back foot, and you would have no idea of whether you are being paid at par with the organization’s other employees at similar designations.
This is especially true for female employees as they are often paid only 70% of what their male counterparts make in many organizations. Even if you do not know the actual figures, finding out about the range of the salary for a particular position is well within your rights.
Your employer cannot prohibit you from trying to know the salary range. However, suppose they go to lengths to prohibit employees from discussing salaries. In that case, there is a possibility that there is a discrepancy in the pay scale.
4. Not Paying You Minimum Wages or The Overtime
Anyone who works for a living is doing so because of the money. The employee enters into a contract with the employer. The latter is required to pay fair wages to the employees in exchange for their services. Hence, not paying the employee the minimum wages allotted for the job is blatant exploitation on the part of the employer.
Similarly, the employer is also legally bound to pay them overtime if they put extra hours at work that ultimately benefits the company. Therefore, putting in more than 40 hours of work per week deserves overtime in most states of the US.
Sometimes, unethical employers will try to cut costs and employ two employees in place of one, but giving in to these practices only aggravates such unethical behavior. An employee can take the matter to the higher authorities and demand fair wages in such cases.
5. Discrimination at Workplace
It is unethical to discriminate against anyone in the workplace on the basis of age, disability, religion, sex, color, genetic information, race, or national origin. It means that none of these factors should be taken into account when making crucial decisions related to employee retention, promotion, and setting compensation.
Even if many employees are hired based on fair rules, discrimination often seeps down from the higher level in untold ways. An employer should always ensure that the workplace is free of discrimination. All employees are also rigidly free from bias while dealing with their colleagues.
The employer should promote a discrimination-free environment. If he discriminates against an employee, they can bring it to the notice of the authorities.
6. Working Outside Paid Shifts
Many employers often make employees outside their shifts. However, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act, your employer cannot legally ask you to do any work outside your paid shift. They cannot ask you to come early or leave later than the designated time.
You should also make sure that you do not accept any payments in cash for any length of time. Working without payslips or other kinds of proof of employment puts you on a backfoot as you would never be able to complain against your employer about unlawful practices. Moreover, you won’t be able to prove that you work for them in the first place.
7. Treating You as an Employee While Listing You as a Contractor
If your employer dictates how you work and when you work and also asks you to follow some of the other rules and norms of the company, then you are an employee. However, your boss might have listed you as a contractor instead. This is often done to save money on employment taxes and relieve them from paying benefits. It also cuts down other costs.
It is alright if the company wants to hire contractors to cut costs. Still, they should not treat contractors as employees by making them follow stringent company norms. The contractors must be free to choose their projects and work according to their flexibility. As long as the work agreed upon gets done, both parties should not have problems.
8. Taking Action For Complaining on Social Media
Employees should be mindful of what they say online about their boss and company as it can directly affect their reputation. However, even if one does make a comment or two about the boss or some policy online, that does not entitle the employer to take strict disciplinary action against the employee.
The employer cannot fire you or suspend you without prior notice. Unless, of course, you had signed a written statement at the time of joining that you would not make any statement on social media.
9. Discrimination of Any Kind
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It is not legal if your boss has a discriminatory attitude and takes action against employees. An employer cannot discriminate against employees based on race, class, ethnicity, color, age, gender, or sexual orientation.
If an employee continuously harasses some employees, gives them more workload of complicated tasks compared to others, or simply has a dismissive attitude towards them, then this could become a problem after a point.
Repeated discriminatory remarks will affect the mental health of the employee. It’s not legal, and the employee can take legal action against the employer.
10. Complain Against Unethical Practices
If an employee complains about malpractices in the organization, then the employer cannot legally stop them from doing so. Employees may not want to become a part of shady practices and have the right to speak up to show they are not complicit in any crime.
Your boss cannot legally threaten you into silence by speaking of dire consequences. Nor can they take away your perks or benefits or reduce your salary in any way. The Whistleblower Act protects employees in such situations. A lawyer will help you present your case specific to your circumstances.
11. Not Making Provisions For Disabilities
An employer should ensure that they have a favorable working environment for everyone, and this includes employees with disabilities. They should have a ramp in the office for wheelchairs or allow them a rest period between breaks, depending on their condition.
It’s illegal, and the disabled employee may take action. The employer cannot legally refuse to make these changes in the workplace if they have hired employees with disabilities. Sometimes, they would do so for their gains but will refuse to take further steps for the betterment of the employees.
12. Promising Jobs Without Written Evidence
An employer cannot legally make promises to contractual employees to give them a permanent position without written consent or agreement. Or, they cannot promise a job to an intern just based on a verbal agreement.
Some employers will do this to get the most out of their contractual employees or interns, who slog away based on verbal promises, thinking they will have a permanent position with the company.
However, these are empty promises without written evidence. The employer can’t make these promises verbally and ask employees to do more than needed.
13. Not Follow Safety Regulations
An employer is bound to follow safety rules in the workplace, and not doing so is illegal. An employer must follow OSHA regulations, if required, according to industry standards, fire safety rules, and hygiene protocols. They should also regularly upgrade their heavy machinery if they work in industries requiring heavy equipment.
An employer cannot legally refuse to take these measures for the safety of the employees or force them to work under unsafe conditions. If an employee is harmed or injured, the employer has to bear complete responsibility, and the employees can take legal action against the employer.
14. Not Deal With Hostile Situations
Sometimes, workplace situations may become hostile inadvertently. A dispute between coworkers or union members can suddenly become a big problem. An employer should be responsible for settling things down and restoring order as soon as possible.
The employer cannot escape his role or turn a blind eye to the problem. That would aggravate the situation even more, and the employer’s role in such situations becomes legally questionable.
What to Do if Your Employer is Violating The Law?
In case you suspect or have proof that your boss is violating the law or that you are facing challenges at work because of your boss’s attitude and ethics. It would be best if you addressed the human resources department. Check the complaint procedure and file a written complaint.
And suppose you feel that your employer is in a position of power and that complaints within the organization will go unnoticed, you can approach the National Labor Relations Board, where wage issues and labor offices issues are discussed. You can also hire a private employment attorney if you want to sue your boss and want to do everything legally.
What to Do if Your Manager is Doing Something Illegal?
It is likely that you may discover your manager engaging in some illegal activities. He could be embezzling company money or trading company secrets.
In such cases, it is well within your rights to take action because you do not want to get into trouble later by seeming like you were complicit in the act and were trying to save your employer. Here is what you can do.
1. Report to The Management
If your boss has a boss, then you can report to them. You can make an official complaint by disclosing your identity or choosing to remain anonymous. Although it may seem like you are breaking the chain of command, it is the only thing you can do, as only someone superior to your boss can ask them questions and hold them accountable.
2. Report to The Authorities
If your boss is the highest in the chain of command and there isn’t anyone else holding a higher position in the organization, then you can complain directly to the local authorities if you come to know of your employer’s illegal activities.
Suppose it is something so severe that it can cost you and your colleague’s jobs, or you could get into trouble for working for an organization that is run through illegal means. In that case, you must definitely alert the authorities.
3. Refuse to Comply
If your boss engages in illegal activities and also tells you to do the same, threatening you with consequences if you refuse to comply, then you can quit or take it to the management as soon as possible.
In addition, you should also keep a record of the illegal activities your boss is doing and keep a trail so that your boss cannot bring false accusations against you and frame you for bringing them down. Be transparent and speak to someone trustworthy in the organization and then report to the authorities.
Can an Employer Make You Return to The Office After Being Remote?
Yes, an employer can make you return to the office after being remote, although there can be variations in certain cases.
If you were working in the office and were allowed to work remotely during the pandemic, then your boss can call you back to the office after the pandemic has ended.
However, if you started the job remotely, and the contract stated that you would be working remotely, then your boss cannot simply ask you to come to the office for work. Unless they have spoken to you and changed the terms of the contract with your consent, they cannot ask you to come to the office suddenly.
Hence, it can be seen that there are quite a few things that your boss cannot do, but unless you are aware of them, you would not be able to exercise your rights as well. It is always good to read a contract thoroughly and seek clarification for any ambiguous statements before signing on the dotted line.
You must also have an idea about the employment laws in your state. You should be aware of the chain of command in your organization if you have to complain to the higher authority regarding workplace issues. This will make you a more confident employee, and you will be able to work with ease in your workplace.