7 Illegal Things Your Boss Might Be Doing

This article sheds light on 7 illegal workplace actions by bosses, like prohibiting salary talks and demanding unpaid overtime, that undermine legal and ethical standards.

Key Takeaways

This article sheds light on 7 illegal workplace actions by bosses, like prohibiting salary talks and demanding unpaid overtime, that undermine legal and ethical standards.

Workplace culture determines multiple things, including employee motivation and contribution to the overall health and success of a company. While your boss is the final authority in your office, that authority comes with certain responsibilities and legal obligations. 

There are multiple laws and protections in place for safeguarding work conditions and setting norms regarding employer-employee relations. It is only through awareness that you can resist potential illegalities that would otherwise continue unabated in utter disregard for professionalism and business ethics. 

There are several things your boss is prohibited from doing from a legal perspective. Here are 7 illegal things your boss might be doing that you should not put up with.

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1. Prohibiting Co-Workers From Discussing Salary Information

While it is fairly common for bosses to discourage you from discussing your pay scale, it is not a legal obligation that requires compliance from your end. Having a policy in place that prohibits workers from openly discussing their salaries and job benefits is a violation of several federal laws. 

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in the US, for instance, clearly states that employees have a right to freely discuss the terms and conditions of their employment. Any work rule or hiring agreement contradicting this principle is not compliant with the law, and you should feel free to challenge it.

Your boss might have his or her reasons for asking workers to keep their wages confidential, as transparency around the topic could bring up wage discrepancies and unfair practices. Any attempt to gag workers or implement negative measures against them for doing so, however, is not legally sustainable. 

In the same way, any disciplinary action for disclosing salary amounts is unlawful - be it through interrogation, threats, or any form of surveillance or retaliation. For an employee, it is important to keep this in mind before self-censoring or holding back on seeking clarity on differential pay standards or salary structures.

two people talking

2. Asking For Unpaid Overtime Hours

The demand for clocking in additional hours or extending your work beyond stated job requirements without receiving additional remuneration is illegal. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that your boss and employer ensure overtime pay when you exceed 40 hours of work per week. Some states enforce this more strictly than others. Under California law, you are eligible for overtime pay at no less than 1.5 times your regular rate if you work for more than 8 hours a day. In short, and even though such malpractice is often reported, your boss cannot force you to work overtime without adequately compensating you

A 2021 survey by ADP, a payroll and HR expertise company, revealed that workers in North America put in an additional nine hours of unpaid overtime every week.

FLSA guidelines are clear about the illegality of such practices, and it is important to bring about awareness about them. President Joe Biden recently rolled out new legislation that could extend protection for low-paid workers and bring overtime pay benefits to over 3.6 million salaried workers. This means your boss can face penalties for failing to compensate you for extra shifts, including charges of wage theft

3. Terminating an Employee For Trying to Unionize

It is not legal for your boss to fire you for attempting to form a union or organize with your co-workers for better work and pay conditions. 

Under the NLRA, you cannot be “...fired, disciplined, demoted, or penalized in any way for engaging in these activities.” Section 7 of the Act also protects the right of workers to strike and engage in activities to collectively bargain, regardless of the existence of a union. There are, however, certain limitations and qualifications that can determine the lawfulness of a strike, based on factors like set objective, purpose, and conduct of the striking workforce.

Overall, if your boss or employer interferes with exercising the fundamental right to form a union or coerces employees into not participating in union activities, they are violating the NLRA and are acting in contravention of US federal law.

a boss firing an employee

4. Discriminatory Practices

A hostile workplace can create barriers to productivity and motivation across the board. Your boss treating you unfairly due to an inherent trait is not simply misbehavior, but a graver issue that you must not let slide under the rug. 

Discriminating against an employee during the hiring process or in the workplace, based on characteristics such as their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, religion, ethnic origin, genes, age, or disability, is illegal. 

Your rights as an applicant or an employee are protected by laws under the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Other federal laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1991 provide monetary compensation for intentional prejudicial behavior

The EEOC is obligated to enforce federal laws to make sure that company leadership complies with principles of fairness. You can raise a complaint on the EEOC public portal within 180 to 300 days of an incident if you feel you have been treated unfairly based on the characteristics mentioned above.
Company culture is ultimately dictated from the top to the bottom. For any workplace to cultivate a healthy environment, it is important for fair and equal treatment to be practiced by one and all, especially the leadership. 

Denial of opportunities based on stereotypes around personal attributes can also adversely harm a company's interests and tarnish its legacy and reputation in the long run. 

5. Retaliating Against Whistleblowers

Exposing illegality is both a moral and legal obligation. If your boss comes after you for shedding light on illegal activities within the company, you have the law behind you. 

The Whistleblower Protection Act, enacted in 1989, enforces various safeguarding features for employees who suffer from retaliation after engaging in disclosures. Covering more than 20 federal laws, the program within the Act encompasses both public and private employees, although you need not be an employee to come forward with original information exposing malpractice.  

In 2023, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reported a record year in enforcement success for the agency’s whistleblower program. After receiving over 18,000 whistleblower tips during the fiscal year, the program awarded almost $600 million to insiders reporting fraud. 

The Whistleblower Protection Rules have been further extended to private business use of non-confidentiality agreements (NDAs) so that they do not discourage potential whistleblowers from bringing their concerns to the SEC. Hence, if your boss makes you sign a document that explicitly prohibits you from recording and reporting security violations or limits the ability of the employee to collect financial rewards, it is not compliant with SEC law.

For example, Monolith Resources, a Nebraska-based energy company was taken to court by the SEC for violating rules laid down by the Whistleblower Protection Act. The severance agreement given to the company's departing employees sought the forgoing of monetary awards upon filing claims against or participating in investigations with government bodies in relation to the company. A civil penalty amounting to $225,000 was agreed upon during the settlement, in addition to corrective actions. 

This example displays how, despite laws against it, your boss or upper management can design agreements and contracts to bring down reporting incentives. In addition to stirring up suspicions about a company’s ethical practices, it shows a disregard for legal protections given to whistleblowers. 

6. Signing Overbroad Non-Compete Agreements

You are not required to blindly sign a non-compete agreement as part of your onboarding if you feel it can be challenged for being too broad-based and inflexible. While they are widely considered to be instruments that hamper competition in the market and suppress wages, non-compete agreements are also illegal in many states. 

California, North Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, and Oklahoma have a total ban on non-compete agreements for employees, with limited exceptions in place. California recently passed signed Senate Bill (SB) 699 to enforce the annulment of non-compete clauses

Another California bill, AB 1076, is under consideration for a reinstatement of the state law that would require companies to notify current and former employees that their signed non-compete clauses stand void

New York has similarly taken steps to propose laws to prohibit restrictive covenants, with Senate Bill S3100 currently stuck in limbo due to opposition by business groups. 

Even where they are allowed, there are reasonable limitations placed on how broad non-compete agreements can be so as to not hinder an employee’s right to work in their field. 

The National Labor Relations Board recently issued a memo to address this very issue, deeming such clauses to be violating the NLRA. There have been several other federal government actions to outlaw non-compete agreements across the country, including a proposed ruling by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for a full-fledged ban.

people fighting over a contract

7. Employment Misclassification

In the era of the gig economy, the line between employees and independent contractors can become blurred. There has been a steady rise in independent contracting in the US, especially in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. More and more companies are now looking at outsourcing core business operations to scale up quickly, surpass geographical boundaries, and widen their talent pools without taking on the responsibilities of hiring in-house employees

It is a trend that carries a substantial risk of employment misclassification!

While regular employees have certain obligations and regular duties, contractual work comes with the benefits of being flexible and self-directed. An in-house employee has several privileges accorded by federally-mandated employment benefits. They include:

  • Minimum wage guarantees.
  • Overtime pay.
  • Medical and family leave.
  • Pension schemes.
  • Workplace safety.

This is why you should pay close attention to your rights as a worker. If your boss makes you work as a full-time worker but denies you classification as an employee, you may be well within your rights to sue them. Misclassified employees can be wrongfully denied minimum wage and overtime pay, which the FLSA otherwise guarantees. 

The US Department of Labor has recently laid out a new rule with guidance on how to analyze a worker’s employment classification. Various states, likewise, have provisions through which you can challenge your boss on grounds of improper classification, either as an employee or an independent contractor. State agencies and tax bodies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can also levy fines on companies for non-compliance.

Despite these legal frameworks, employment misclassification remains a fairly common practice in various industries as it allows businesses to save costs and shift the tax burden onto the contracted party. It is possible to resist such unfair practices, however, with proper legal guidance. 

The Importance of Building Ethical and Legally Compliant Work Cultures

It is important to have a good sense of local and national laws to get a better understanding of what boundaries to have and what rights to guard in your workplace. 

Employee rights have come a long way: years of struggle have accumulated in formal codes and legal processes to ensure the workplace is a site of fair and respectful behavior. Businesses that are guided by ethics and a sense of community responsibility as core values find it easier to embed employer responsibilities and have leadership that actively supports them.

For a boss, the first responsibility is to set the tone for the organization’s work culture, ensuring legal obligations are met and no individual is treated without keeping both their human rights and labor rights in mind.

Unmudl is a unique skills-to-jobs digital platform that can be your partner in creating robust, ethical, and respectful workplaces.  

We offer multiple courses on leadership that focus on enhancing coaching competencies to honing managerial skills. 

two people talking and discussing ideas

The Influence of Workplace Environment on Employment and Career Changes

A huge part of workplace productivity is dependent on how supported the employee feels, and if they feel respected as individuals in their jobs. Work-life balance, non-toxic cultures, and career growth opportunities are the logical endpoints to focus on for any company seeking to retain employees and bring long-term loyalty

Studies show that workers are more likely to transition between careers and make bold job switches today than ever before. A global survey conducted by ADP Research Institute revealed that the most important factors for the working individual were job security (43%), career progression (40%), and work enjoyment (37%). 

Ben Michael, Attorney at Michael & Associates expands on the importance of combating violations and promoting worker well-being: “Perhaps the single most common legal abuse perpetrated by bosses nationwide is various forms of wage theft and labor law violations. From underpaying workers to illegally adjusting time clock punch-ins to denying time off to taking a cut of tips, labor laws are widely unenforced, especially for small businesses, and the average worker lacks the information and negotiating power to push back on the abuses they may be suffering from.”

Contemporary generations are quick to switch jobs they feel are leading to stagnation or affecting their mental health. And for good reason!

According to a report from the Pew Research Centre, 60% of US workers who switched between jobs saw increases in real wages. Switching between careers, especially when making a transition between two different fields, however, can be daunting. 

Once again, Unmudl can help you gain transferable skills that aid you in your career shift

Our courses include:

  • Project Management for Beginners.
  • Technical Writing.
  • Front-End Web Development Bootcamp.
  • Excel-Experts for Data Analysts. 

We also offer specialized courses on Aerospace, Solar Energy, and Emergency Health Services. Keeping track of in-demand careers and making mindful career changes can prove to be highly lucrative, both in the short-term and for long-term professional advancement. 

Reach out to Unmudl today to learn more!

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