15 Unprofessional Behaviors Your Boss Can’t Legally Get Away With

Many employees have dealt with our fair share of negativity and unacceptable behavior at work. But, it’s key to know there are legal lines that can’t be crossed. Educating yourself about your rights is crucial, especially when it comes to what your boss can and cannot do by law. If they dare to breach these laws, you’re not powerless—there are actions you can take if your employer steps out of line, all aimed at safeguarding your rights at work. Here’s a rundown of 15 things your employer is legally barred from doing at the office.

Prevent Wage Discussions

Your boss can’t penalize you for discussing your salary, thanks to the NLRA. This protection covers chats about wages, organizing for better pay, or even contacting the NLRB for advice.

Personal Questions in Job Application

Federal laws strictly forbid employers from asking about personal details like age, race, or religion on job applications. This is because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission aims to stop discrimination in its tracks, making such questions a fast track to legal trouble.

Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination by employers is blatantly illegal, whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other personal characteristic. The Department of Labor enforces strict rules against such unfair treatment, ensuring equality in the workplace.

Paying Less Than Minimum

Not paying the federal minimum wage is not just unethical—it’s illegal. Employers must adhere to this rate, though some states set even higher minimums to ensure workers can earn a living wage.

Prevent You from Joining/Supporting a Union

Saying no to unions? Your boss can’t do that. Thanks to the National Labor Relations Act, your right to join or support a union is protected, and any attempts to intimidate or penalize you for it are against the law.

Treat Contractors as Employees

Treating contractors like full-time employees, complete with overbearing instructions and job duties, crosses a legal line. The Fair Labor Standards Act specifies what constitutes misclassification, helping protect worker rights against exploitation.

Deny Overtime Pay

Clocking out but kept working? That’s wage theft in California. Employers must pay you for all work, including overtime at 1.5 times your rate, with potential legal repercussions for them if they don’t.

Toxic Tolerance

Ignoring toxic workplace behaviors breaches your right to a professional environment. Discrimination or harassment, especially based on protected characteristics, could lead to claims against your employer for a hostile work environment.

Wage Discrimination

Paying you less for an illegal reason, like your gender or race, constitutes wage discrimination. Equal work deserves equal pay, regardless of protected characteristics. If you suspect wage discrimination, you might have a case under laws like the Equal Pay Act.

Unpaid Duties

It’s illegal for employers to have you work without pay, before or after your scheduled shift. Such wage theft could even land your wages below minimum, which is another legal no-no.

Retaliation Against Whistleblowers 

Whistleblowing on illegal activities protects public health and safety, but it can lead to unjust job loss. Laws like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act shield those who expose wrongdoing, offering a path for wrongful termination lawsuits.

“Papering” Before Termination

Suddenly documenting complaints against an employee as a precursor to firing them, known as “papering,” can backfire, especially if it’s used to justify a dubious termination. Such practices can be seen as retaliatory and legally questionable.

Neglect Disability Needs

Refusing to accommodate employees with disabilities violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whether it’s installing ramps or offering specialized software, employers are obligated to make necessary adjustments for disabled workers to thrive.

Limit Future Employment Unfairly

Enforcing overly broad noncompete agreements that restrict future employment opportunities is often illegal. While some states like California ban them outright, others require that these clauses are reasonably limited to protect workers’ rights to find employment in their field.

Limit Social Media Critique

Employees have the right to discuss work conditions on social media under the NLRA, including criticisms of their employer. However, this freedom doesn’t extend to making threats, harassment, or spreading lies, which can still lead to disciplinary action.

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