11 Things Your Boss Can’t Legally Do

things your boss can't legally do

Bosses, right? Sometimes you get the rub of the green and have a kind, considerate, and down-to-earth boss. Other times, you are not so lucky – your boss is a piece of work that makes you want to pull your hair out. We get it. We’ve all had crappy bosses.

The silver lining (sort of) is that some of these horrible bosses may not only be crazy but are also breaking the law. Understanding the law regarding certain behaviors of a problematic boss allows you to handle the situation better. 

But what are things your boss can’t legally do? How do you go about dealing with those situations? 

Things Your Boss Can’t Legally Do

Before we reveal what your employer can and cannot do, note that workplace laws differ from business to business and from employee to employee. 

Small organizations, for instance, may be exempt from some requirements, and managers may not have the same wage protections as hourly employees. Additionally, the laws may vary in your state, country, or region. 

However, in general, here are 11 things your boss can’t legally do:

1. Ask Inappropriate Questions on Job Applications

An application form with questions about your marital status, age, plans on becoming a mother, religion, or sexual orientation should raise red flags. Many regions frown on employers asking these questions on job applications, and you can file a complaint against the employer for discrimination. 

In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects workers against discrimination in hiring and employment practices based on race, color, sex, national origin, and religion, among other protected classes. As a result, hiring managers cannot let these factors influence their hiring decisions.

2. Make You Sign Strict Non-Compete Agreements

In general, it is understandable. Companies use non-compete agreements to prevent their competitors from hiring ex-employees with insider knowledge of their business operations. For instance, Amazon would like to prevent a former employee from moving to Walmart. 

However, the issue arises when the non-compete agreement is too restrictive and prevents an employee from earning a living after quitting the job. Some of these contracts are so limiting that the employee cannot find work in the same industry for a long time. 

If you ever feel like such a contract is unfair or too restrictive, you don’t have to sign it, and you can contact a lawyer for legal advice on the matter.

3. Extend Your Working Hours Without Paying Overtime 

Among the things your boss can’t legally do is make you work overtime without pay. That’s a surefire way to face a lawsuit for unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the United States or the Employment Standards Act in Canada. 

The stipulated work-hour limit is eight hours a day and a maximum number of forty hours per week. Any non-exempt employee that racks up extra hours without receiving overtime pay must get paid at least 1.5 times their regular pay.

Your boss cannot assign tasks to you outside of office hours, especially those that aren’t productive for the company. 

Finally, your boss can’t pay you for overtime in cash. Many employers try to avoid their responsibilities by paying you cash for overtime hours and keeping those hours off the books. The same applies to bonuses and commissions. 

Since your boss must record all of those payments in the company’s payroll records by law, it can cause many problems for your boss.

4. Retaliate Against a Whistleblower

If you discover illegal, illicit, or unsafe workplace practices, you have the right to report them to the relevant authorities. However, when you consider the actions your boss can take against you, you may be hesitant. Even so, it is illegal to retaliate against you for blowing the whistle. 

Under the Department of Labor’s whistleblower protection laws, your employer cannot retaliate against you. Such actions as firing, demoting, refusing overtime or promotion, or cutting hours or pay constitute retaliation.

Some employers will break this law and fire you anyway. If that’s the case, you need to file for wrongful termination. You must show that your whistleblowing resulted in your firing. Timing is crucial: The closer your complaint is to your employer’s retaliatory action, the stronger your case is.

5. Force You to Take a Polygraph Test 

Many employees have accepted to take polygraph tests because they don’t know what the law says about it. Employers use this ignorance to force them to take a polygraph test.

Lie detector tests are prohibited for pre-employment screening and during employment under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA). Generally, employers cannot make employees or job applicants take lie detector tests. Refusing to take tests or exercising your rights under the Act will not result in discharge, discipline, or discrimination.

Some jobs, however, allow for a polygraph test, like law enforcement or any security-related positions with the federal government. 

6. Misclassify You as an Exempt Employee 

According to the FLSA, exempt employees must be paid above a certain level and work as administrators, professionals, executives, computer programmers, or outside salespeople. If your job duties don’t fit those categories, you qualify as non-exempt. That means you are entitled to overtime pay and other benefits. 

Some employers misclassify employees as non-exempt workers so they cannot have overtime, rest breaks, or meal breaks. It is one of the things your boss can’t legally do. 

7. Treat You Like an Employee Even Though You Are a Contractor 

Freelancers know this too well. You join an organization as a freelancer, only for your boss to ask you to clock in at the company’s resumption time. As if that is not enough, they want you to take on more responsibilities than your position requires. 

You are expected to do the job of an employee without the perks. This is illegal, and your boss can’t make you work more than your contract says.

8. Violate Your Privacy Rights 

As an employee, you have boundaries that your employer can’t legally cross. For instance, your boss cannot search your locker or drawer unreasonably. They cannot spy on you in areas where you’d expect privacy, like the dressing room. 

There is a right to confidentiality for employees, as well as a right to some amount of personal space. You can file a civil suit against an employer who divulges private information or lies about you.

9. Make You Work in Unsafe Conditions

Safety comes first whether you’re a factory worker or a white-collar employee. Therefore, your boss can’t force you to work in an unsafe environment or with hazardous equipment. 

Unfortunately, only a few employers realize workers’ dangers when working in hazardous environments. 

Your employer may be liable for compensation if you suffer an injury while working in an unsafe environment.

10. Discriminate Against You 

According to the EEOC, employers cannot discriminate against employees because of their race, sex, religion, color, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information. For instance, if your boss tells you to retire because you are too old for your job position, that is unlawful discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Therefore, hiring, compensation, and promotion decisions should not consider any of these protected classes.

11. Fire You After ‘Papering’ Your Personnel File

If you have notable issues in your work history, your boss can fire you for it. However, what your boss can’t do is fire you without cause, or they have to pay you compensation. 

Most employers know this, so they try to avoid it by putting all negative information on your personnel file. 

If you feel you’ve suffered wrongful termination, get in touch with an attorney to help you and seek compensation.

How to Report Your Boss: Steps to Take 

1. Document Everything

Suppose you have suffered any illegal act from your employer and have the evidence to prove it. In that case, it’s critical to document everything by writing down the dates and times of the incident and the names of any witnesses present. Make copies and keep them safe, as they could be crucial in helping you prove your case in a court of law.

2. Report It

The next step is to report to the relevant authorities. If an immediate boss within the organization wronged you, human resources are the next port of call. Once you’ve submitted your report, they should look into the case and advise you on the subsequent steps to take, depending on the outcome of the investigation.

But if the company is in the wrong, you would file an administrative complaint with the necessary bodies in your jurisdiction – for example, the EEOC if you are in the USA or the Fair Work Commission in Australia, etc. 

You should be aware that the time it takes for your matter to come before the agency depends on the agency. However, it can range from six months to a year or more.

3. Speak to an Employment Attorney

You can also contact a private employment lawyer. These attorneys can file civil suits against employers, resulting in monetary restitution and workplace changes. Some employees avoid this option because of fees. However, some attorneys offer free consultations – which can be helpful.

The Bottom Line 

An employee’s life can sometimes feel as though they are at the mercy of their boss’s whims. That’s why labor laws are put in place to protect workers from being taken advantage of by their employers. It also helps if you know things your boss can’t legally do to you as an employee. 

Now that you know your rights as an employee, you can take steps to protect your interests at work.


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