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Illegal business tricks: Can my company do that?

Because I used to be a corporate HR person, people ask me HR questions all the time. One of the most popular forms of question that I get asked is: “Can my company actually do that?”

The answer often is: “Well, not legally, but it appears they did anyway.”

I’m not a lawyer. I don’t send people off to sue their current or past employer (or at least I haven’t so far). Life is long. So many of these errors are clueless rather than evil. The stories go into a vault. Here are a few true-life examples from Midwest technology companies of off-the-wall things that happened at work.

Pizza Penalty

“My boss wanted pizza brought in for the whole IT group. I called around and found a place that would deliver the order for $88 including tax and tip. I told my boss and he got mad and said it was too much. He got on the phone himself and found a place that would do it for $81.

So, if it was worth the $7 savings for him to spend that time, he got the satisfaction of one-upping me. Still, he didn’t tell me that he had called another place and both orders of pizza got delivered.

He made me write a check from my own checking account for the first order that he never told me to cancel. I had to pay for it! Plus, the employees in the department ate both orders of pizza and there was nothing left over.”

Was this legal? Of course not.

That’s Not Harassment

“We had our annual sales meeting but I had to miss it for an important customer event. My boss knew I wasn’t going to be there. I am the only saleswoman in the department.
The sales meeting went really well, I guess, but when I got back, everyone told me that our boss told nothing but off-color jokes the whole time. About a dozen different people came up to me to tell me how inappropriate it was and how lewd these jokes were.

I finally said to him in a really friendly way: ‘So, Jack, everyone keeps talking about the blue jokes you were telling at the sales meeting. Sounds kinda like a stag party or something.’

He said with the widest eyes: ‘But Samantha, it’s only because I knew you weren’t going to be there. I would have never insulted you with that kind of language if you were in the room!’”

Is sexual harassment – the “hostile environment” kind – still harassment if the person for whom the environment would be hostile isn’t present?

It definitely could be. The manager didn’t know the hostile environment that he may have helped to create at the sales meeting carries back to the office. Don’t ever do this.

Freedom of Assembly

A group of test engineers were traveling out of town together to a remote test environment. They met in their office at about 6 a.m. to discuss the project before leaving for the airport the day of the trip.

At about 6:30 a.m., they learned that another group of test engineers had just returned from the same remote test site. “Cool,” they said. “Let’s get those guys in here.”

So there are about 10 people in a conference room sharing data – the ones who have just returned and the ones who are about to leave – when a manager (not the manager of any of these guys) walks in.

He says: “Who authorized this meeting? None of you is at the level that can authorize a meeting. Disperse!” Disgusted, they went to talk in the parking lot to finish their conversation and try to make the second group’s trip most effective.

Can your company do this? Definitely. It’s up to them who can talk to whom and where on work property. While this might be asinine, it’s their privilege.

Your Stories

Got any stories for the vault? Send them to for a future Nine2Five column. We’re not biased, by the way, toward bonehead-employer stories. The impossible-employee stories are every bit as well represented in the vault. But that’s another column...

Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


bobbywoods responded 10 years ago: #1

my wife boss makes her pay a 50.00 fine for being absent also he is trying to take her money as a deposit 300.00 he says not all girls have to pay thjis. is this legal.

khozema responded 10 years ago: #2

i really liked ur ideas. i want u to send me more tricks for improving the business performance.

Dayna responded 8 years ago: #3

I have a question... My boss goes through my e-mail's. Are they allowed to do that?

Robert Lee responded 8 years ago: #4

Dayna, your boss is allowed in law to go through your e-mail, providing that the e-mail messages are in the company's server. This means that company e-mail, even if addressed to you, is proprietary property. Also, if you access your Yahoo or similar webmail account from your company computer, the company reserves full right "and recourse" to stop you from accessing those webmail messages. (In case you aren't legally trained, "recourse" means the company reserves all rights in law and in tort to SUE you for compensatory damages and also exemplary (i.e. punitive) damages. I am not trying to frighten you, but that's the legal standing in 80 percent of the world. Be careful, Robert.

Already committed responded 8 years ago: #5

Can my boss force me to attend the company's "anniversary" cocktail reception? It's from 4-8pm in the office, during the work week.

Staphany Dunklehun responded 7 years ago: #6

I work in a Bank. My Bank do not this customer but they need his numerous contacts und money which are huge. But this customer need to access me or he will withdraw from my Bank. My manager says if they lose him, I will lose my Job. They called it customer servicing and maintance. In fact, the bank assigned me to always attend to this customer. Is it legal or do I challenge them in court.

Mad employee responded 6 years ago: #7

The company im working at is pointing us ( you get 7 points and then your fired) for taking a sick day- that they give to us and pay us for!!! Is this illegal? You can't get fired for taking a sick day can you? Also isn't it illegal to change rules or policies and apply them to the past. Such as: I am getting pointed for taking 2 sick days, and when I took them- we didnt get pointed for them- but now we are?!?!? Can this company really do this?

breonda responded 6 years ago: #8

an employee at walgreens pharmacy is going around telling my personal information can i sue that company. I made a complaint about the employee however this is the second complaint on the employee and the company has not taken any action.

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