12 Things Your Boss Can’t Legally Do (And What To Do)

Boss pointing finger at you.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclaimer for more info.

While bosses may have more clout within the organization, it doesn’t mean they should treat anyone unethically or pretend they are above the law. 

Unfortunately, there are too many bosses out there that still cross a line. And sometimes, even the company as a whole tries to cover things up to protect themselves (and the boss). 

The good news is that there are quite a few employment laws in place to help protect you and the workplace. So let’s dive into the list of things your boss can’t legally do and what you can do if they are in violation.

Things Your Boss Can’t Legally Do

There are many federal laws in place to protect employee rights. But it’s important to know that there are also various state and local laws too. 

Additionally, that also means some workplace laws can differ between business type, location, and more. So always check your state laws too beyond any federal regulations. 

1. Your Boss Cannot Ask Illegal Interview Questions

Whether you are helping interview someone or you are being interviewed for a job, there are questions your boss should not be asking. 

It’s a big red flag during your interview, which should make you consider if you really want to work there. 

Questions around race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetics are protected by federal law. Check out these illegal job interview questions if you are looking for more information. 

2. Ignoring Overtime Pay or Minimum Wage

Two very important things your boss can’t legally do is not pay for overtime work and ignoring minimum wage laws. 

The good news is the employee has protection under The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which established standards for both overtime pay and minimum wage. 

If you realize you are not being paid appropriately for your time worked, report the issue to your Human Resources department immediately.

3. Discriminate Against or Harass Workers

Fortunately again, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also protects you from discrimination and harassment when you are employed. 

And although managers should know better, these two things happen in the workplace more than we may realize.

According to the EEOC law, harassment becomes unlawful where:

  • Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment. 
  • The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

4. Your Boss Cannot Legally Terminate a Whistleblower

Your boss and company can’t legally fire or discipline a worker who files complaints about illegal or fraudulent workplace activities. 

Being a whistleblower doesn’t mean your boss or certain people will try to make life difficult for you. But if you are acting as one, just know you are protected under the Department of Labor’s whistleblower protection laws. 

As stated, I certainly am no legal expert. So make sure you read the link above carefully and contact a lawyer that specializes in protecting whistleblowers.  

5. Not Providing Accommodations for Those With Disabilities

Your boss can’t legally ignore accommodations for those employees with disabilities. And if they are not provided, a disabled worker has a right to take legal action against their employer. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations in order for the person to adequately perform their job duties. 

According to the ADA, this may include:

  • Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position.
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations. training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.

6. Asking Illegal Questions on Job Applications

Beyond the job interview, employers and bosses cannot ask questions that could lead to discrimination or harassment. Typically, this means job applications cannot include certain health-related, family, and even some personal questions.

Similarly, the labor laws are on the employees’ side, which prohibits applications for a required response to areas like:

  • Gender identity
  • Preexisting health conditions
  • Religion
  • Citizenship or country of origin
  • Sexual orientation
  • Ethnicity
  • Race
  • Disabilities

7. Prevent You From Discussing Salary with Co-Workers

Most employers don’t want discussions among co-workers about salary for fear of conflict and others wanting raises. 

But there is wage discrimination happening too, so these conversations are healthy to have among employees. 

Although your boss or employer might not like it, there is nothing they can do. Preventing the workforce from talking about these topics, even publicly, goes against the employee’s right to unionize.

Under the National Labor Relations Act

“Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or the Act), employees have the right to communicate with other employees at their workplace about their wages.  Wages are a vital term and condition of employment, and discussions of wages are often preliminary to organizing or other actions for mutual aid or protection.”

8. Withhold or Deduct Your Pay Without Your Consent or as Punishment

Of course, you will notice standard deductions in your take-home pay, which are required by law. But besides your taxes – your boss has to get your consent on anything else.  

So randomly reducing your pay for things is illegal. 

Additionally, they can not use your paycheck for retaliation or punishment. Even if you quit your job and things did not go well.  So if you are owed a last paycheck yet, the company has to pay you what you worked for. 

9. Treat You Like an Employee When You Are a Contractor

Many people opt to be a freelancer or do contracting work. 

This allows the individual more freedom and can be cost-effective for the employer, who does not have to pay employee benefits or particular taxes. 

But if your boss expects you to work like a regular employee, then under the law you are entitled to the same benefits as someone employed there. 

For example clocking in and out at the same time as full-time employees, taking on more responsibilities than what your contract says, etc.

10. Violate Your Privacy Rights

Employees have a right to privacy in the workplace, which your boss can’t legally infringe on. Meaning your boss can’t spy on you where privacy is expected (bathrooms, dressing rooms, your desk drawers, etc.). 

Personal space is important and protected. If your boss and employer share your private information or lie about you, then you can file a civil suit. 

The right to privacy is a basic law that includes: 

  • The right of persons to be free from unwarranted publicity
  • Unwarranted appropriation of one’s personality
  • Publicizing one’s private affairs without a legitimate public concern
  • Wrongful intrusion into one’s private activities

11. Discipline You for Complaining on Social Media

If you are posting on social media about compensation, unionizing, or the work environment then you cannot be disciplined or fired for that. 

Now if you are threatening the company or boss, harassing co-workers, or talking about trade secrets – then you can be fired or have legal action taken against you. 

This falls under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). You can read more about the protections in place for publicly talking about your employer.

12. Trying to Force You to Take a Polygraph Test

There are some jobs where polygraph tests can be allowed. Typically, this would be jobs in law enforcement or high security within the federal government. 

But outside of that, a boss cannot enforce lie detector tests during job interviews or when you are employed by the company. 

In fact, you as the employee are protected by another law, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA).  And under this law, the company cannot fire you for refusal of taking one either if it is brought up to you. 

Can an Employer Make You Return to the Office After Being Remote?

Since we are all about working remotely here at Remote Work Junkie, I wanted to make sure to answer about being required to return to the office.

An employer can require you to return to the office, even if you have been working remotely. If you refuse, the company is within the right to terminate you. But there are instances where legally they cannot, like if you are protected by the American Disabilities Act (ADA).

Currently, in other countries, various governments are working to pass a legal right to work remotely. For instance, The Netherlands is the world’s first to do so. And hopefully, many more to follow the lead! 

What to Do if Your Manager Is Doing Something Illegal

So what should you do if a boss or your employer as a whole is violating your rights as an employee? There are a few things you can do and some steps to take. 

Now your manager or employer might not technically be doing something illegal either but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed if it’s a toxic work environment. And if it’s really bad, start looking for a new job as well.

Do your research.

Making accusations at work can lead you to some serious stress, especially if you aren’t incorrect or have not done some research. 

Analyze the situation and ensure there is no misunderstanding. From there, start to look into what your boss or employer is doing. Is this something illegal? Is it unethical? Are they violating your employee rights? Or are they in violation of federal or local laws? 

Collect your research, notes, and anything that is related to proving the issue at hand. Documenting everything with your research is critical. 

Report the violation.

Next, you will want to report the violation to the appropriate people. There are a few scenarios here though to think about. 

If it’s a boss or co-worker within the organization, then connect with the human resources department.

Now, I do caution one thing about reporting a boss or leader and it might be controversial to say – most HR departments are hired to help protect the company more than the individual. 

This doesn’t mean you should not follow the procedure and report to human resources. An ethical HR rep will work with you and hopefully find a resolution. Plus, having a paper trail and showing you made the effort is important if HR does not follow through. 

I caution this not to scare you, but to ensure you keep copies of things, document everything, and report further beyond human resources if the violation gets swept under the rug. 

Reach out to an employment attorney.

The other option you have if the violation is being ignored is to contact an employment attorney. You’ll want to reach out to one that is focused on helping employees. 

There are some who focus on the employer side or some that will represent both. But it’s best you focus on the ones looking to protect individuals, for obvious reasons. 

But an employment attorney can help employees with wrongful termination, workplace safety, wages, discrimination, and much more. 

I certainly do not know much about the specific workplace laws, so you can dive deeper into this great resource about employment attorneys


Curated Content Directly To Your Inbox.

We'll send you the latest content, career tips, and remote jobs every Tuesday.

Start Over

Share this post 👇

About Todd Kunsman

Todd is the founder of Remote Work Junkie and has been featured in numerous publications like Business Insider, HuffPost, CNBC, and more. He’s been a remote work advocate for close to a decade and has been working remotely full-time for 5+ years. He’s also a marketing, personal finance, and music nerd 🤓

Related Articles
What interests you about this position interview question.
By Todd Kunsman • March 04, 2024

What Interests You About This Position? (Answer Examples)

“What interests you about this position?”  This is one common question you'll most likely have come up during your interview

What are you passionate about job interview question.
By Todd Kunsman • February 07, 2024

What Are You Passionate About? (Answer Examples)

“What are you passionate about?” Yet another seemingly simple, but general interview question you might be asked. However, your answer

Person bored because meeting could have been an email.
By Todd Kunsman • January 16, 2024

7 Signs This Meeting Could Have Been an Email

While meetings (in-person or virtual) can be great for getting projects done and team camaraderie, they also can be a

As Seen On