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11 Things Your Boss Can’t Legally Do (from the Experts)

From requesting you to work off the clock to asking personal questions, here are 11 answers to the question, “What are some excellent examples of something your boss can’t legally do?”

  • Ask for Work Off the Clock
  • Request Sensitive Information
  • Force You to Sign Overbearing Non-compete Agreements
  • Compel You to Violate the Law
  • Act With Discrimination
  • Prohibit Salary Comparisons 
  • Underpay or Withhold Earned Wages
  • Fire an Employee Because of Pregnancy
  • Terminate a Whistleblower 
  • Promise a Job to an Unpaid Intern
  • Probe With Invasive, Inappropriate Questions

Ask for Work Off the Clock

An employee is often told that working off the clock is disallowed. In fact, they’re even told that it’s a fireable offense. Imagine thinking that working extra hard and being willing to work outside ‌the required work hours for free would cause any boss to fire you. It probably wouldn’t happen, but it’s nonetheless frowned upon. 

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With that in mind, it is also illegal for any supervisor to require that someone carry out work assignments outside of work hours without being granted overtime—or any compensation at all. Even if something like that is suggested, take it seriously. Politely and sternly remind your boss that it is legally not permitted to do that. You’d be well within your rights to do so.

Sean Doherty, GM, Box Genie

Request Sensitive Information

Your boss does not have the right to demand any sensitive information, such as medical history, family details, religious beliefs, or other similar personal data that is not directly relevant to your job. 

Fernweh Editions Fern & Petals Candle

In fact, it is unlawful for employers to request this kind of information. It would put them in breach of privacy laws and could cause significant fines and penalties. So, if your boss ever tries to extract any information that is unrelated to work or is too personal. Make sure to politely point out that it is not appropriate and immediately bring this matter to your HR team.

Arkadiusz Terpilowski, Head of Growth and Co-Founder, Primetric

Force You to Sign Overbearing Non-compete Agreements

It’s understandable that companies don’t want their employees going off and selling their company secrets to other competing companies. They prevent their ex-employees from working in competing companies, afraid they will give them insider knowledge. 

For instance, Pepsi might prevent its top-rated employees from moving to Coca-Cola. However, it becomes an issue when companies make their employees sign non-compete agreements that keep them from making a better living than they are or any living at all. 

For instance, preventing them from starting a business related to the industry they are in, or working for a company in the same industry. Your boss cannot do this legally; you don’t have to sign a contract like this.

Lydia Mwangi, Content Writer, Barbell Jobs

Compel You to Violate the Law

There is a lot of overlap between what is legal and what is ethical, but there are some specific things that are not legal for your boss to ask you to do. For example, your boss cannot compel you to violate the law, such as by asking you to forge a signature or falsify documents. Nor can they require you to commit crimes such as theft, embezzlement, or falsifying records. 

Your boss also cannot force you to do things that would be considered an invasion of privacy, such as reading other people’s mail or listening in on personal phone calls. Many of these examples fall under the category of illegal orders, and while they may be unethical, they are not against the law. 

However, some things are both illegal and unethical, such as asking you to falsify timesheets or expense reports, or asking you to carry out activities that would put the company in legal or financial jeopardy.

Luciano Colos, Founder and CEO, PitchGrade

Act With Discrimination

One example of something that one’s boss cannot legally do is discriminate against employees based on race, religion, gender, age, or any other protected characteristic. This includes decisions related to hiring, promoting, or terminating an employee based on these criteria.

While these things are illegal, it is important to note that unfortunately, these things happen in the workplace every day. If you believe that they have discriminated against you, please reach out to your HR team.

Tawanda Johnson, HR and DEI Consultant, Sporting Smiles

Prohibit Salary Comparisons 

Does your boss not look kindly upon you discussing your salary with other coworkers? Maybe you’ve even heard of cases where people have been fired for having these conversations? If so, the leaders were absolutely in the wrong; in fact, they were acting against the law. 

Forbidding salary discussions among employees could be seen as an effort to prevent unionizing, which violates the National Labor Relations Act. Without open discussions about wages, we cannot expect to close the gender pay gap, as well as other kinds of pay-related discrimination. 

You shouldn’t have to be afraid to speak openly about your salary; in fact, having such conversations is the only way employees can start demanding fair compensation and equal treatment.

Piotrek Sosnowski, Chief People and Culture Officer, HiJunior

Underpay or Withhold Earned Wages

Employment laws on the federal and state level establish a floor for an employer’s compensation structure unless an employee falls under certain exempt categories of employment. 

Absent a recognized exemption, an employer must pay an employee the minimum wage, overtime pay, or other compensation required by law. Likewise, federal and state regulations often prohibit or limit set-off rights on termination. This means, even on termination, an employer’s ability to dock pay from the final paycheck is often limited or prohibited altogether. 

The extent of the limitations imposed on an employer often depends on the type of employment and application of state laws. Employers should be diligent to ensure they are not underpaying employees or improperly withholding wages.

Derek Colvin, Attorney, Waldrop & Colvin

Terminate a Whistleblower 

A boss cannot legally fire or discipline an employee who is a whistleblower. Any employee who complains about a boss’ illegal activities, like fraud or corruption, is protected from disciplinary measures. This does not extend to less substantial claims, like a boss who is simply being unpleasant, however.

Annu Daniel, CEO, Elohim Company

Fire an Employee Because of Pregnancy

While it is legal to terminate a pregnant employee, a boss cannot do so simply because she is pregnant. In such situations, an employer must be able to clearly show that the reason for terminating the employee is completely unrelated to the pregnancy. 

As pregnancy discrimination is a serious thing, the reasons for firing cannot leave any doubt. If you, for example, break company policies or falsify time records, pregnancy won’t prevent you from facing consequences. Still, pregnancy mustn’t be why you’re losing your job. If you find yourself in such a situation and feel insecure, talk to an experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer.

Agata Szczepanek, Community Manager, LiveCareer

Probe With Invasive, Inappropriate Questions

One thing a boss cannot legally do is ask employees inappropriate interview questions, such as those related to their marital status, sexual orientation, or plans to have children. This violates anti-discrimination laws and could cause serious legal penalties. 

Aside from this, employers cannot ask questions related to religion, politics, or any other protected class. As an employee, it is your right to know what is and is not acceptable in the workplace, so if you ever feel uncomfortable or discriminated against for any reason, speak up immediately.

Shaun Connell, CEO and Founder, Learn Financial Strategy

Promise a Job to an Unpaid Intern

In the United States, it is illegal for employers to offer any form of consideration—including a job—in exchange for unpaid work or labor. This means that promising an unpaid intern a job at the end of their internship is not allowed and could cause legal action to be taken against your business. 

If you wish to provide an opportunity to an intern, ensure that you provide it on an agreed-upon, voluntary basis and with no expectations. This will protect both you and the intern from potential legal repercussions.

Yusuf Shurbaji, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Prismfly


If you noticed your boss doing any of these points, contact your HR department immediately. There’s a huge difference between a manager who subtly sabotages you or dealing with a job you hate vs a boss who is doing something they’re legally not allowed to do. Educate yourself and make it clear you will not tolerate this in your workplace.