11 Things Bosses Should Never Ask Employees to Do

Bosses, managers, and supervisors have a lot more power than the workers do — and it’s important to keep that authority under control.
Updated April 18, 2024
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Great bosses aren’t just in charge of employees, making decisions, and issuing orders. They need to be good leaders as well.

The position comes with a lot of responsibility and power. Trust is the name of the game here. Employees have to believe the boss won’t abuse their authority. Otherwise, they might look for other ways to boost their bank account.

Going overboard can happen, however, even if it’s not done maliciously. Here are 11 things bosses should never ask their employees, even if it’s technically legal.

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Lie for the company

andy_gin/Adobe man in a suit crossed his fingers behind his back

Asking an employee to lie, regardless of whether or not it’s a seemingly minor fudging of facts or a total falsehood, is a major no-no.

In some cases, it can result in clients, coworkers, or customers being misled, which will cause issues down the line.

In more serious instances — like falsifying records — there could be severe legal ramifications. Particularly if regulators get involved. The bigger the lie is, the bigger the problem will be when it rears its head.

Share private information

bnenin/Adobe female person having a job interview with a male recruiter

There’s a difference between getting to know your staff and sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong when it comes to the private details of someone’s life.

There are plenty of questions it’s illegal to ask during a job interview, and if an employee isn’t volunteering those details in the office either, there’s probably a good reason why.

A boss shouldn’t ask about an employee’s relationship status, family status, or anything else they don’t want to share.

Doing so can lead to investigations and legal woes if an employee feels like there are grounds for a formal complaint with either the Department of Labor or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Talk about each other

Kzenon/Adobe two employees gossiping about a female employee

Asking employees to evaluate or dish on each other is a terrible idea in every way, shape, and form. To start, it lends itself to a gossipy workplace culture. You don’t want employees talking behind one another’s backs. It erodes trust.

And if there’s one worker who feels like they’re a target, it can lead to harassment claims. Should you need to address something with an employee, be direct and upfront about it.

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Work during their breaks

Prostock-studio/Adobe diverse millennials enjoying communication in modern office

Federal law doesn’t mandate lunch or coffee breaks. But bosses need to be wary of asking employees to work through any they take because it could run afoul of local and state laws.

Beyond that, it’s a lame thing to do, so make it a rare request.

If an employee is owed a breather, but an emergency has cropped up, offer snacks and drinks.

Work when they’re sick

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe portrait of ill adult businesswoman with runny nose

The world has spent years in the throes of a pandemic that has permanently altered the employment landscape.

While it certainly isn’t necessary to send someone home just for sniffling, you don’t want a worker with a contagious illness in the office. They’ll just get other employees sick.

At the very least, look into remote work options if there’s something mission-critical that needs to get done.

Use PTO instead of sick days

Prostock-studio/Adobe sick man working on laptop at home

There’s no federal law guaranteeing paid sick leave — that varies by state. But if you’re in a state that has paid time off separate from paid sick time, you have to obey the law of the land. Lumping the two together simply isn’t an option.

The Family and Medical Leave Act does entitle eligible employees to take unpaid time off in certain situations without retaliation. The easiest way for a boss to avoid a kerfuffle or any confusion about sick time is to check with HR.

Work after their shift

Chaay_tee/Adobe man drinking coffee while sitting on desk table looking at laptop

Bosses don’t do their job for free, so why should employees? Asking employees to work off the clock is illegal. It’s also going to make your workers angry and resentful.

If payroll targets aren’t being hit or there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day for your team to complete a task, that speaks to poor management or issues with what should be priority number one.

Work with staff to figure out what’s slowing things down and how to improve the situation.

Cancel vacation time

Prostock-studio/Adobe woman staring at smartphone screen

Emergencies are inevitable in business and in life. Those emergencies are why people contingency develop plans. That doesn’t mean pulling an employee away from preplanned vacation time.

At best, it’s going to annoy your employee — especially if they’ve already booked flights or made reservations. Worse, it can screw up things down the road, since that vacation time will need to be used at some point.

Make charitable donations

Atstock Productions/Adobe hand putting coin in the glass jar

Donating to charity is a wonderful thing to do. Of course, it’s also tax deductible, which isn’t too shabby either.

The problem arises when an employee feels pressured to make a donation by the company they work for.

It’s the worker’s money. What they do with it is none of your business. The same goes for asking staff to support your child’s fundraiser. Don’t do it.

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Attend optional events

wavebreak3/Adobe people interacting with each other at table during a seminar

Supervisors and managers typically need to be the face of company events. It’s a good thing to show up at holiday parties and team-building exercises. However, if the event is optional, bosses need to stay true to that.

Encouraging employees to attend is one thing. Pressure — or worse, any kind of threat — is another matter entirely.

Much like how they use their paychecks, what an employee does with their time is off-limits.

Not join or start a union

I Believe I Can Fly/Adobe businesspeople making pile of hands

Some of America’s largest companies have come under fire for anti-union rhetoric. The fact of the matter is that federal law guarantees workers’ right to organize, though there are some exceptions. As the boss, you should never ask employees not to form or join a union.

Unions are proven to improve the well-being of workers. And labor-management partnerships can be much stronger through negotiations where the ground rules for everyone are laid out.

Bottom line

alfa27/Adobe businesspeople working in office

Bosses should never ask an employee to do something they themselves wouldn’t or shouldn’t. They should lead by example and be in the trenches with their staff. That way, the workers know they can count on them and trust them.

Having a bad boss is one of the top reasons people bail on their jobs. Even if it means looking for other ways to stop living paycheck to paycheck.

The difference between a good boss and a bad boss can be the difference between a thriving workplace and one doomed to fail.

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Author Details

Will Vitka Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.

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