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8 Things You Should Never Ask Your Employees

The relationship between employers and employees is complex. On the one hand, managers and executives are essential resources to answer employee questions, foster growth, and ensure necessary work gets done. On the other hand, it's important to remember that many topics and requests—including some that may feel harmless at the moment—are off-limits in conversations with employees.

The best way to avoid those mistakes? Build awareness in advance so you’ll recognize red flags right away. With that in mind, here are eight things you should not ask your employees to do if you want to protect professional (and legal!) boundaries. To foster relationships of trust in your workplace, avoid asking or telling employees these 8 things.

1. Work Off the Clock or During Breaks

“Can you work through your break and put in extra hours when you’re off the clock?

It’s not out of the question for employers to need additional support every once in a while. However, there are two important caveats to consider before you ask for overtime support.

First, understand the distinction between exempt and nonexempt workers. Nonexempt workers qualify for overtime pay for every hour they work beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. Be prepared to pay these additional wages before you make your request.

Second, ensure that your overtime request is the exception, not the rule. Your employees have agreed to work for your organization based on the workload and schedule set out in their job offers. If you regularly exceed those expectations, don’t expect your employees to stick around.

2. Ignore Harassment in the Workplace

“Can you look the other way and not report their inappropriate behavior?

Harassment in the workplace is a serious concern and should always be addressed appropriately. In addition to posing a real danger for the affected employees, it erodes trust and morale inside your organization.

Workplaces function best when employees feel empowered to take action after witnessing or experiencing harassment. By setting the precedent that company leaders won’t tolerate employee mistreatment, you ensure that everyone feels safe and secure when they come to work. Don’t disrespect your team members by asking them to sweep harassment under the rug. 

Many states require mandatory harassment training for all employees. You can learn more about facilitating this training through Merritt Business Solutions here.

3. Answer Personal Medical Questions

“What did your doctor say at your last appointment?

Employers must comply with medical questioning restrictions during the initial hiring process and throughout the employment period itself. The only acceptable medical requests arise when documentation is needed for accommodations or when the employer has reason to believe that an employee wouldn’t be able to perform their job due to a medical condition. Note also that the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act protects these same medical privacies for employees’ family members. 

When it comes to COVID-19, the only acceptable question is whether employees have had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed or displayed symptoms of COVID-19. All employee illness information must remain confidential to comply with the ADA.  When in doubt, don’t ask about medical issues at all unless you’re positive your questions are legal and appropriate.

4. Provide Personal Information

“Are you in a relationship?

Next on the list, don’t ask employees for personal information about their lives, including their marital status, religious beliefs, pregnancy plans, and even age. Federal and state laws protect against discrimination based on these personal details. And while you may have no intention to discriminate, simply having the information opens up the potential for bias—or perceived bias.

For best practices, let employees set the tone for what they want to share about their personal lives. If possible, get to know your team members with icebreaker questions that have lower stakes.

5. Use PTO Instead of Sick Time

“Since you used up your sick time, you’ll need to use PTO.

Depending on your organization’s approach to time off benefits, PTO and sick time may be separate. Some states require employers to provide a set amount of paid sick leave each year, and it’s essential to maintain accurate records between PTO and sick leave.

If any employee runs out of sick time, don’t ask them to use PTO to cover the time off. Instead, start a conversation about alternative options within your PTO policy or medical leave guidelines.

6. Connect on Social Media

“You never accepted my friend request.”

Social media is another tricky area for employers to navigate. It goes without saying that you should never ask for personal login information. In some states, employers are prohibited from adding employees as “friends” on social media.

Whether these restrictions apply in your area or not, it’s best to avoid social media interactions with your employees. Connecting online introduces the potential for hiring and employment-related bias and blurred professional lines.

7. Keep Their Raises Private at Work

“Do not tell your coworkers about the raise you received this month.”

Understandably, employers might want employees to keep raise information private. Colleagues learning about a raise or bonus may use that knowledge to request additional pay themselves, putting employers in a tough spot. 

Despite this concern, the National Labor Relations Act protects the right of employees to discuss their salaries freely, whether they’ve unionized or not. As a result, you’re not allowed to discourage conversations about wages, benefits, and other employment conditions.

8. Falsify Records or Lie

“I know we weren’t able to, but if anyone asks–just say we did.”

Finally, as you might expect, you should never ask employees to lie or misrepresent anything they do at work. Whether you’re asking employees to share a “little white lie” with customers, falsify documents, forge signatures, or misrepresent performance results, nothing good comes out of the deceit.

Instead, make sure employees know that their integrity comes first. When company managers set the tone that owning up to mistakes or shortcomings is more effective than lying about results, employees feel safe to admit when something goes wrong.

Remember, communication is essential for employee development and growth. However, you should always be cautious about how and what you communicate to your employees. As the employer, you are responsible for setting the appropriate standards at work and ensuring your employees understand those boundaries. Your employees will appreciate your dedication to professionalism, and you’ll foster a workplace community that can truly thrive.

At Merritt Business Solutions, we offer HR, payroll, and benefits support to set your business up for success! Get in touch to learn more here.

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