can your employer do that? probably — but you can still discuss it

I get a lot of letters like this — letters that ask, essentially, can my employer really do this?

I work in a industry where I sometimes work in the evenings after my standard 8 hours. I don’t mind at all, because it’s good money. Now to avoid paying overtime, my employer is telling me that I have to shift my hours. In other words, I have to come in late to work, then work into the evening to equal 8 hours with no overtime. Can they do this? This is not what I signed up for.

Here’s another:

I am an hourly worker for a company with 7 branches. My position is being terminated because customer service in the 7 branches is being centralized to the home office. I was copied on an email to my branch manager that I am going to be required to travel to St. Pete to train the CSR’s there ( my replacements) The company is paying my hotel, meals and gas. Can I be fired if I refuse to go? Especially if I have a doctor appointment scheduled during that time period?

The answer to both of these letters — and so many others — is:  Yes, your employer can do that, but they might end up handling it differently if you have a calm conversation with them explaining your concerns. Maybe not, of course, but many, many employers in many, many situations do respond to that.

So the relevant question in situations like these isn’t just “Is this legally allowed?” but also “Is there a way to address this that could produce a change?”

To be clear, laws matter. It’s important to know if your employer is doing something prohibited by law. But the majority of the time I hear this question, (a) what the employer is doing is perfectly legal, and (b) that’s not the starting place that’s going to get you the best results anyway. When you’re upset about something your employer is doing, it often makes sense to start by having a calm conversation with your manager where you explain what you’re concerned about and why.

It sounds like this:

“I wanted to talk to you about your request that I do X. I understand why you’re asking — it’s because Y. But to be honest, Z was one of the reasons I took the job — it’s important to me, and X would be a real drawback for me. Is there any chance of revisiting the plan?”


“Doing X would cause me real hardship because of Y. Are there any other options?”


“I understand why you want me to do X, but I’m concerned about Y. Could we take a look at other ways to approach it?”

In many cases, that’s all that it will take to get a different answer. Of course, other times it won’t work — but that conversation is where you should start, unless your employer has already given you compelling reasons to skip that step.

(And for cases where what your employer is doing or proposing doing is actually illegal, there’s information here.)

{ 117 comments… read them below }

  1. UKAnon*

    And to be honest, even if it is illegal there’s usually precious little that you can do. Taking a case against an employer is stressful, time consuming, expensive and likely to harm you more than them.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      So true. I used to work for a giant media company, and we were required to attend harassment training conducted by legal affairs. The attorney who gave the presentation hinted pretty strongly that bringing a case against the company would result in a very, very long process that would consume the complainant’s life and resources, while the giant company had plenty of lawyers and time to throw at any action brought against it. It was disheartening, to say the least, but I’m pretty pragmatic so I appreciated that. Usually we got a lot of the company Kool-Aid thrown at us (“we’re amazing! we’re the best! we’re SO SUPER COOL and progressive and socially conscious!”), but this was decidedly non-fuzzy.

      I did learn, however, during the course of my career there, that the threat of a lawsuit could bring a pretty sweet settlement. Someone I know who is a member of a protected class had a major clash with her boss, said something loudly about discrimination, and was presented with a package the next day (or so I was told). Would she have won a lawsuit? Possibly. It was easier, cheaper, and less time-consuming to throw money at her.

      I also knew someone (same company) who claimed short-term disability for an injury and was discovered across the country living it up with her sort-of famous pseudo-boyfriend. I heard the company sued her and it wasn’t pretty. Moral of the story: think long and hard before getting entangled in a legal battle with a big corporation.

      1. Sage*

        “Usually we got a lot of the company Kool-Aid thrown at us (“we’re amazing! we’re the best! we’re SO SUPER COOL and progressive and socially conscious!”)”
        This sentence made me crack up laughing. “Company Kool-Aid” is now firmly lodged in my brain and will be used often at work because the company is AMAZING(LY tone deaf, clueless, and treats employees and customers badly)!

  2. Jennifer*

    Is there a list of the few things that *aren’t* legal to do?

    Though in reality, I don’t think it matters much. Employers can pretty much do whatever they want, and suing them if it’s illegal (or whatever) will probably only hurt you more than them.

    1. BRR*

      Alison’s first link is basically the list (in the US with a couple of exceptions (looking at you California)).

      I agree that most of the time it’s not worth it to sue. It’s very difficult to prove many of the things that are illegal and your name will often surface in search results then (I’m pretty sure it’s legal to discriminate against people who have sued a previous employer, please correct me if I’m wrong). When all of these people ask if it’s legal, I wonder if these things were how they plan on bring them up.

      1. PEBCAK*

        Knowing the law doesn’t mean that you are going to run out and sue your employer. It means that, when you go to have a conversation with your manager, you have the law on your side. Many times AAM has suggested that the employer may not know, and even just pointing it out to them may cause a change in your favor.

        1. Colette*

          I think having the conversation without bringing up the law is the best approach to start with, even if it is illegal. It’s always better to start out assuming you’re talking to someone reasonable, and there are only a few ways to bring up the law without making it seem like a threat.

          1. some1*

            I used to work at a company that had a policy that was illegal in my state. I just emailed the HR Director and CCed my boss saying that she probably didn’t realize it, but the state law prohibits you from doing X with a link to the law on the Attorney General’s website.

      2. Dan*

        Even if it were illegal to discriminate against someone for suing a previous employer, there’s no way you could prove that in court. Since even “perfectly” qualified applicants have nowhere near a 100% chance at getting a particular job, you’d never know that the reason you didn’t get called was because of your lawsuit.

        1. BRR*

          Yeah I agree that it would almost be impossible to prove. The situation I’m thinking of in particular involves a job my fiance did not get. I googled who got it and the first link was to him suing a former employer for discrimination. I read the lawsuit (which he was clearly not discriminated against) and thought, who would hire this guy. And closing the full circle on hard to prove his case was thrown out in summary judgement.

    2. Turanga Leela*

      In most cases (not just employment), I’d agree with you and recommend not suing, but there are some exceptions. I’d consider suing my employer under these circumstances:
      1) The employer owes me a huge amount of money (I’m thinking twice my annual salary).
      2) The employer has been getting away with something awful for a long time, and it’s worth it to me to end the practice even at great personal cost.
      3) I’m a member of a class in a reasonably provable class action.

      Anyone want to add to the list? This isn’t legal advice, just my thinking on the subject.

  3. GrumpyBoss*

    I’ve always been impressed with how calmly AAM answers questions like these, and the very reason is outlined in the answer! What are we after? Jumping right to “is this legal?” is very self defeating and won’t help anyone accomplish anything.

    I am not always a fan of metaphors (or is this an apology?), but in this case, I think a good one to use is to replace your employer with your neighbor. If your neighbor does something jerky, do we call our lawyers? Maybe, if the relationship is already toxic or they are doing something unquestionably illegal. But if it is in a grey area, like maybe a hedge hanging over our property line, we ring their doorbell and attempt to talk through the concern like civilized adults who need to continue to see each other everyday. Your employer should be no different. “Is it legal?” is the last resort question, unless it is obviously illegal.

    1. Ruthan*

      It is kind of disheartening that so many people’s work situations are such that they think they need a lawyer to get their coworkers to listen to them.

      1. BRR*

        Often times they don’t bring it up in any other way first. I like your neighbor analogy. If my neighbor was blaring music at midnight I would ask them to turn it down versus calling the cops.

        1. Kay*

          Definitely this. We had neighbors like this growing up. We’d pop our head over the fence (they were the neighbors behind us) and ask them to turn it down. We only had to get cops involved because the dad of the family told us specifically not to speak to them over the fence and refused any of our (completely reasonable) requests that they not make the music so loud that we couldn’t hear the tv in our own house. When situations get that strained it makes sense to get others involved, but the first course of action is just to sit down and have a conversation with the person that’s causing you a problem. If you’re dealing with reasonable people, most of the time an amicable solution can be reached.

        2. Koko*

          Sadly most people would rather hire out their confrontations to the police. I once had the police called on a wine and cheese tasting event in my apartment that was attended by 15 people, had no TV or amplified music playing, and took place from 7pm to 9pm on a Saturday evening. Nobody knocked on my door before the police showed up. The cop honestly seemed a bit embarrassed because, as he put it, “There’s clearly no disturbance here, I’m sorry to bother you.” My neighbors (who I never actually met in the year I lived there!) were just too cowardly to handle their problem by speaking too me directly. I guess they felt that would be awkward, and it was better to use police resources.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Yep. And unless it’s illegal in a “dangerously illegal, I’m scared to talk to them” way, I’d _still_ discuss it with the neighbors.

      Suspected meth lab next door? Call the police.

      Suspected domestic violence? Same.

      Neighbor is violating the “street tree” ordinance in a way that also inconveniences me, and I have no other concerns about safely approaching them? Ring their doorbell and make sure they’re aware of the ordinance and say I can recommend an excellent arborist (if I can), if they need one.

      1. Ash (the other one!)*

        This made me laugh…oh HOA drama. We had a person in our neighborhood that every time we get even the smallest of weeds in our front yard she goes screaming to the HOA instead of either knocking on our door or pulling it herself. Come on people.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yep! It’s very similar to office drama of the sort where things go to HR, or to the “is it legal” question before they go to discussion with the person involved, in its own way.

          And of course, sometimes it’s reasonable. If you have a neighbor, or a coworker, whose prior interactions make it unsafe to deal with them – or if the offense is severe enough or scary enough – then sure. (If, say, someone in your work place threatens physical assault, or commits it, I would so NOT be discussing that with them politely over tea.)

          But too often, this sense of being “trapped” by circumstances (where you live, own, rental contracts for the sort of HOA/neighbor drama; the need for an income by job drama) leads to reacting as though you need an authority to help when, in fact, it may be solvable much more simply without an appeal to authority.

        2. KJR*

          I grew up in a development with an HOA, and they published a monthly bulletin which included, among other information, the names and address of “rule violators” – for example, having a burnt out light bulb in your street lamp or some other nonsense. Luckily my dad made sure we were never on the list! Just seems kind of dumb. But then again, I guess it’s because of these rules that it always looked nice.

          1. INTP*

            This reminds me of the X-Files episode where the HOA leader conjured some kind of monster that killed anyone who violated the rules, lol.

        3. Pennalynn Lott*

          We had a neighbor who, for *years*, sent anonymous letters complaining of, say, a tree branch overhanging a sidewalk, or bushes encroaching on the curb, or cracks in sidewalks, or any other random, minor code violation they could come up with. I got a letter three years ago about a small branch hanging 4″ into the sidewalk, where a very tall person might get their hair mussed up if they walked into it. I was on crutches at the time and sure as heck not strolling out to my front sidewalk to make sure it was safe for tall people to walk on. So I sent an email to our neighborhood group, basically shaming Mr. Anonymous for not just knocking on my door and being kind enough to let me know. I said that the worst that would happen is I might’ve directed him to my garage where the tree loppers are kept and asked for his help. Amazingly, no one has gotten an anonymous nasty-gram since then. :-)

          1. jag*

            So the problem with the requests were that they were anonymous? Or that they were in the form of a letter instead of face-to-face?

            Or that you thought they were too minor for you to deal with and you wanted them to use your tools to solve since they didn’t seem like a problem to you?

            1. sstabeler*

              a) the primary issue si that the HOA was informed as a firts step, instead of talking to whoever was in violation.
              b) they said the WORST would have been asking the complainer to fix it themselves- and, since the person who was reported tot he HOA was on crutches, it may well be a reasonable request. (specifically, because if you are on crutches, it’s due to an injury that means you aren’t supposed to be putting your weight on one leg.
              c) they said ASK for his help. my interpretation would be “please can you sort it out- I’ve a sprained ankle, and my doctor doesn’t want me using the leg for a couple more weeks” not “loppers are over there, you sort it out”

    3. jag*

      I disagree. Finding out if something is legal in a truly information-seeking manner – by asking a third party – is a good thing, insofar as what you learn may affect the approach you take in discussing it with the employer.

      It doesn’t necessarily mean sending lawyers to force the issue. Or even mentioning it early in discussions. Rather, it’s an important piece of information that is worth, at a minimum, having in the back of your mind. Asking “Is this legal” is not the same as engaging a lawyer or threatening to sue someone.

      I’ll add that it is entirely possible the person/party you’re dealing with does not even know what they are doing is illegal.

      For example, if my neighbor is doing something illegal that bothers me a little, I can ask them to stop nicely, the same way as if what they were doing is legal. But if they push back, I’ll be ready. Depending on the nature of the illegality, that might take the form of a threat or it might take the form of a “heads up,” letting them know they might get in trouble with the government if they continue (depending on the nature of what they are doing). The latter could even be positioned in a way that is trying to be helpful.

      I don’t understand why getting fuller information on the situation is not an early step in dealing with a problem.

    4. fposte*

      I think it’s not so much that people are always planning to sue as they want a ruling that will make them right if they complain. I suspect it’s no accident that the things people usually ask this question about are usually issues of behavior or fairness that are heavily policed in childhood homes and in schools, where a breach was generally dealt with pretty swiftly by parent or teacher. It’s a real shock to discover that there’s no rule on your side about, say, treating everybody the same, and that even if there were it doesn’t mean that complaining about it would immediately get the offenders disciplined.

      Meanwhile, things like an employee being illegally classified as a contractor don’t trip the same alarms, because we don’t have a lot of elementary-school policy about contractor status.

      1. louise*

        That’s a great insight. To your point about illegally classifying someone as a contractor, an employer stating “do not discuss your wages” comes to mind as another thing that actually is illegal that many workers wouldn’t know is illegal. It doesn’t feel like an unfair request, at first glance and if it’s coming coming from higher up, then it must be reasonable, right?

        There are several personality types that tend to take what an authority figure says at face value while others operate more from a fairness/justice perspective (and a lot of overlap where people both “obey” authorities AND have a strong sense of justice). I think that, along with what that elementary carry-over you cite, leads to the “but this doesn’t feel fair, so it must be wrong” mindset. The rules in the adult world aren’t intuitive, unfortunately.

      2. TheSnarkyB*

        fposte, I totally agree that it’s about how we’re raised and socialized. And I think “jag” is right, too.
        People aren’t asking this because they have their lawyer on speed dial and are about to call them up. They’re asking because a lot of people are taught that the law is so important and so based on what’s right and wrong (ha!) that they trust it more than their own judgment and their own ability to communicate with others about fairness. I doubt most of these posters are then going and taking legal action, but rather are hoping they can go to their bosses and say “Oh, that’s illegal. I don’t have to do it.” instead of truly communicating about their needs and fairness. Now, to be fair to those people who are starting a conversation this way – their bosses were also likely socialized to feel this way, and may actually be less open to hearing about a complaint if they aren’t breaking the law. So it goes both ways. We needn’t assume that the employees writing in with these questions are litigiously trigger-happy, insane, or dumb. (I know none of you above were suggesting these.)
        But…. maybe it is fair to say that they’re repetitive and terrible at checking the archives. :)

      3. Colette*

        I think part of it is also about avoiding conflict. If there’s a law, then you do t have to rock the boat because the law will do the heavy lifting.

      4. doreen*

        A lot of the questions do seem to be about fairness, but to be honest I just don’t get where some of them come from, like the first letter writer mentioned in this post. He/she presumably doesn’t have any problems working evenings since the complaint is not about working evenings in general or not having adequate notice of a schedule change- the complaint is that the employer wants the schedule changed on those days. I can easily understand why someone would prefer overtime for the evening work- but fair is a two way street and I don’t get how it’s fair to expect an employer to pay for 8 hours of straight time and some amount of hours as overtime when they only want/need 8 hours of work.

        1. Anna*

          I think you’re being a bit simplistic. There is a real difference between asking for/being willing to work normal hours for normal pay or inconvenient hours for more pay OR having no choice & working inconvenient hours without better money.

          1. doreen*

            I understand that and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with trying to persuade the employer to keep the old schedule. I just don’t think the letter writer is asking if it’s legal because she actually considers it unfair after taking both sides into consideration.
            Look at it the other way around. Imagine if you hired someone on an hourly basis to provide child/elder/pet care in your home from say 8 am to 4 pm. Something changed about your household’s schedule (maybe someone got a new job with different hours) and you now need care from 10 am to 6 pm. Would you think that fairness compels you to pay the caregiver straight time from 10-4 (even though you don’t need care from 8-10) and overtime from 4-6 in the absence of any circumstances not described in the letter? Most people I know wouldn’t – even some who believe their employer should do the equivalent. That’s what I mean by “fair is a two way street”- fair is fair no matter which side of the equation you’re on.

      5. INTP*

        I agree. Based on my conversations with people in general, it’s a very common misperception that the law requires your employer to treat you fairly. Also, even if you don’t plan to sue if you’re told “no,” knowing that something is illegal gives you leverage when making a request. It’s just smart to put yourself in the best position to negotiate when you’re making a request – you may not want to lead with “this is illegal” but it helps to have that information if you’re told “no” the first time. In fact, I’d say it’s stupid not to research and have that leverage in your pocket if there’s a chance that whatever you’re protesting is actually illegal. Some managers also automatically dismiss pretty much every request for better treatment and the only way a letter writer is going to have a shot at fair treatment is if they can prove a policy is illegal. And the rest are still more likely to be responsive to “This is illegal” than “This is unfair”!

      6. Tinker*

        Yeah, and I think there’s also a perception that comes from that early education that if the behavior is in fact legal, you DO have to be subject to it — even with people who are from homes that don’t have this particular feature, there’s still an awful lot of “we do what we must because we can” in the schools, organizations, et cetera that young people spend their time in. The notion that one can leave, or even say “I want this” and have it mean all that much if it doesn’t align directly with the desires of the people who have the power, isn’t something that is taught to many people before they actually enter the adult world (and sometimes not even then).

      7. Nobody*

        That is a really good point, and perhaps it is also the reason that people are so reluctant to talk things out face to face. They want to be able to report it to someone in authority (HR, the boss, a lawyer) and have that authority figure deal with it for them, just like a parent or teacher did.

        It is also possible that some of these questions stem from having worked under a collective bargaining agreement, or knowing other people who do. There are many things that are generally legal but may be prohibited by a collective bargaining agreement. The first situation describd in this post, for example, would not be allowed by any CBA under which I have worked (assuming I understand correctly that when she stays late, her boss tells her to come in late the next day to avoid paying overtime; if it is a permanent change in work schedule, it would be allowed, with sufficient notice). Similarly, although those employed at will can be fired at any time for almost any reason, most CBAs require some system of disciplinary action to be applied somewhat uniformly.

        Someone who previously worked under a CBA where these rules were spelled out might remember that her employer was not legally allowed to do certain things, but mistakenly thought these things are illegal everywhere, not just under the specific CBA.

    5. OriginalYup*

      I like your neighbor analogy and agree for most scenarios, but I do see the value in starting with “is it legal” in some instances because it adds weight and urgency. 99% of problems don’t need to start there, but the 1% that do are often showstoppers. I dealt with a situation where my boss, the CFO, wasn’t transferring my payroll deductions into my 401k account for months at a time. I knew that this was incorrect (and incompetent and inconvenient) but it wasn’t til I learned that it was actually illegal that I immediately escalated the problem all the way up the chain where it served to uncover a rat’s nest of other financial problems. If I’d known there were laws about my issue, I would have started out sounding a very loud alarm instead of spending weeks sending politely worded emails. (Thus proving your and Alison’s point about “is it legal” not being the optimal starting point for run-of-the-mill work issues.)

      1. KerryOwl*

        My employer does this too — delays the payments to my 401(k) — but I was told it’s okay as long as they’re in by the end of the quarter. Is that not true?

        1. OriginalYup*

          The rules can vary by state, and there’s inclusions/exemptions and tricky technical bits. If I recall correctly, the rule in my state at the time was that deductions had to be deposited by the 15th of the following month. (I’d called my state’s Dept of Labor helpline to confirm what was what first.)

    6. Mike C.*

      I dunno, my neighbor doesn’t have a serious effect on my finances or a significant amount of time during the week.

      I think a whole lot of folks jump to the “is it legal” question because labor law isn’t taught widely to folks, unlike say traffic law or something similar.

  4. Ash (the other one!)*

    I think part of the problem is people look towards their jobs like they are being “forced” to do whatever it is they’re doing or experiencing — whether its like the examples above or whether its “workplace bullying” (that doesn’t rise to the level of true harassment) or whatever it is. Working adults are not slaves. Yes, its hard to leave a job, especially in this economy, but no one is forcing anyone to stay at a job that is making them do things they do not like. That’s where I get really frustrated. Employers can do pretty much whatever they want or don’t want to do (within the few limits under law). If you don’t like it you can: (1) complain (which is the harsher way of saying what AAM’s advice is) and when that doesn’t work either (1) grin and bear it, or (2) quit. Everyone has the number 2 option, whether it is fiscally easy or not. It’s not about it being legal or someone “wronging” you. It’s about whether its enough to make you want to leave. Plus, if you could sue your company over these types of things, would you really want to?

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      This, and also that I think very few of us get any training in conflict resolution/how to have difficult conversations/that kind of thing. Most employers don’t consider that kind of training to be mission critical — I am fortunate enough to work for one that does, but without that and AAM, I’d be flying blind. And if you don’t know how to ask for what you want in a way that’s likely to produce results, and especially if you like your job otherwise (so you don’t want to just up and leave), it can seem like the only alternatives are to keep suffering or to see whether the long arm of the law can help.

    2. Pontoon Pirate*

      Gently, I’d like to observe that this is a pretty privileged position to take. Nobody is physically forcing somebody to work a bad job, that may be true, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other forces at work. It’s hard to find a job for a lot–A LOT–of people out there. It’s hard to earn a living wage for a lot–A LOT–of people out there. I have a great deal of empathy for people who work demeaning jobs for bad managers because it’s what puts food on the table for their family.

      The choices for them are the same as for the rest of us, yes, but when “is it legal” questions arise, I think what they are really asking is, “Is there any hope that this kind of work culture will ever change?” Alison’s job is to help them come to grips with the way it is, but I think what a lot of people want to know is that they aren’t alone in feeling the way they feel.

      1. Tinker*

        I very much agree.

        Something I also note on this subject — it’s tempting to say that if you can change employers to get away from a given batch of bad behavior, then it’s like it’s not really a problem. But you had to change employers over that, with all the risk that entails, and also put up with the situation for however long to get out of it. It’s an opportunity cost, and I think that can be particularly insidious because it’s hard to prove after the fact.

    3. Anx*

      I wonder if part of this mentality is that is defacto illegal to be unemployed, so there may be heightened expectations of legal protections for workers.

      Homelessness is rapidly becoming criminalized across the country; there is no option for abstaining from employment.

    4. Mike C.*

      Quitting isn’t always an option when you have bills to pay, and there are very serious risks to one career if you happen to be in a small area/industry and you’re the victim of any number of illegal acts.

      Saying “it’s not easy” is for many a seriously understating the issue.

      On a slightly different issue, workplace bullying is a really serious issue with serious effects on the people who have to deal with it. Just because it’s not recognized by US law (yet) doesn’t mean that it’s harmless – it’s recognized in many other places.

  5. Nerd Girl*

    Ah…the things employers get away with. I’ve been at the receiving end of the crappy “it’s legal and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it” and of the “yep, we’re breaking the law but what are you going to do about it?” The two that pop into mind are the time I was denied bereavement time because my relatives death wasn’t convienent for the business. The second is the company I worked for straight out of college. I worked there for a year and the owner was this ridiculous a**hole who thought he “owned” me. I gave notice but it wasn’t long enough for him so to punish me he doctored my paperwork to create the impression that I left the company sooner than I did and he wouldn’t pay me. When I argued with him he told me “You have no proof!” As I left the building I was so angry I shoved several displays over and the result was a domino effect. He told me he was calling the police. I told him to go ahead. “You have no proof I was even here”. (this was before every business had a camera). He did call the police but it was his word against mine so it went nowhere. Looking back, I’m not proud of that (well, maybe a little) and I would definitely handle it differently.

    1. Adam*

      I general don’t advocate for exiting a crappy job in a dramatic Hollywood fashion, and in your case I still wouldn’t. But the fact that his illegal doctoring of your file bit him in the ass on the roundabout is immensely funny to me.

    2. Mike C.*

      Yeah, my last boss treated H1-B visa workers like that, it was sickening. I’d look up their home countries and they were always places with repressive governments and for them the choice was either working insane hours or the threat of deportation.

      I’m sure there were ways to report this sort of thing, but I had no idea at the time, and those folks were scared and didn’t want to do anything that would get them noticed. It was terrible.

  6. San Francisco*

    I think I asked one of the only AAMs where I asked how to approach something (change the policy of vacation days not rolling over) and was told that it actually *was* illegal in my state!

  7. anon in tejas*

    I also think that people resort to the “is it legal” question because they are looking for “do I have a reasonable leg to stand on to ask for _____”

    the thing is that legality is not the only consideration in what makes an appropriate/good/wonderful/okay workplace. things like your health, family, religious practices are also important and can be something to stand on in asking for_______

    1. AnonyMouse*

      Yep, agreed. I’m not in the U.S. so my frame of reference for these conversations is a little different, but I think sometimes people in these questions might say “is this even legal?” when what they really mean is “would any reasonable person disagree with me in thinking I should be allowed to ask for XYZ?”. That’s why I like Alison’s advice here. Yes, some managers are unreasonable, and yes, sometimes your job will require you to do something you’d really, really rather not. But I’ve had success before following the model she laid out of explaining your objection and asking to revisit the issue…and sometimes a manager won’t realise how a new policy or task could be unpleasant/inconvenient/harmful to a worker without actually hearing it spelled out. Take the (admittedly low-stakes) example of the LW recently whose CEO wanted everyone to get trousers with the company logo on the butt – he clearly thought it was funny, but the women at the company were mostly uncomfortable with it. Pretty much everyone came down in favour of her just explaining that it was awkward, and I bet if the CEO was at all reasonable, he’d see sense after hearing their side.

      Of course, sometimes people are asking about something that genuinely seems like it should be (or actually is!) against the law. In that case, wanting to know your legal rights doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to start suing people – sometimes it’s just good information to have.

  8. Allison*

    I definitely agree that it’s better to ask if there’s something they can do or say to remedy the situation. I think another legit question is “is this reasonable?” A lot of times, I think people are just upset or angry at their employers for pulling some jerk move or handling something poorly, and want to feel validated so they know they’re not crazy for feeling that way. Maybe they’d like to know if it’s a common practice, or whether they should start looking for another job.

    A lot of readers, like myself, are new to the workplace and, when facing tough times at work, aren’t sure what’s normal and what’s not.

  9. BadPlanning*

    I think there are a lot of scenarios where we mistakenly think people are giving any thought to decisions in terms of fairness/convenience or likability. If you are told to do something and do it, the tellers are happy. There’s a reason for the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” saying — if the wheels aren’t squeaking, then they’re happy. Of course, really good managers and coworkers have some self awareness and check on things, but you can’t assume it.

    When I did temp work as a factory worker, they had 2 shifts. When I started, I was only first shift. Then I got told I would do second shift (we had to call the temp agency every day and check if/when we were need the next day). So then I came in for second shift (which was 10-7). It sucked. You rarely worked that late and it was crappy hours for a summer vacation. After a handful of “Work second shift” answers, I finally said, “I can’t work second. I can only work first.” Then…they assigned me to first shift. It was an “ah-ha” moment for me in “if you don’t say anything, they’ll just assume you are fine with it.”

  10. Hiring Manager*

    I cannot tell you how much I love this post!

    Never start with saying you’re going to sue your employer — that won’t get you very far.

  11. Adam*

    Lawsuits are hell, and drain every aspect of your life right out of you including time, money, and spirit, even if you win. Be very careful before you decide to initiate one.

    1. Dan*


      While not work related, I did engage someone in a legal battle once. I lived in a rent controlled section of Los Angeles, and had a land lady who was running an illegal duplex. City law prohibited her from collecting rent. I figured it out, and used it to my financial advantage.

      My god, what a huge time suck that was. I didn’t spend much money, but I spent a lot of time at the city administrative offices and the law library.

      Honestly, I was right. The law was on my side. But in retrospect, I can’t say my course of action was the wisest thing I’ve ever done. My rationale? Honestly, I’m so used to being on the “suck it up” end of things, that when the law was truly on my side, I wanted to take full advantage of it. Didn’t make it the right thing to do.

      1. Anna*

        The problem is that people who are doing things illegally do it mostly because they know they won’t be called out. And I honestly feel what starts out as “Oh, nobody will notice and it’s not that big a deal” will soon apply to larger and larger problems. It’s not always the best approach, but sometimes it is and at that point someone has to stand up. The question shouldn’t be whether or not a violation is worth pursuing when it’s egregious, but how do we make it easier to pursue those cases without making it a painful process for the person looking for some justice.

  12. Chuchundra*

    The other thing I’d like to point out is that you can always say no.

    Some people seem to be really allergic to this concept. There seems to be some feeling that your options, when asked to do something that you’d rather not do by your employer are ultimately either 1) do it or 2) quit. Responding with some type of refusal is always an option and it puts the ball back in their court. There’s no legal or moral obligation to follow the commands of your employer while you’re in their employ.

    Obviously they can take all manner of retaliation against you, up to and and including firing you, but more likely they’re going to show you more of their hand and give you a chance to make a better decision. Good employees don’t grow on trees and if you have value as worker a reasonable boss isn’t just going to fire you. Of course, not all employers are reasonable and this is certainly a risk you take.

  13. Lizzie*

    I have a relative who cries “illegal!” at just about all workplace frustrations. I used to find this deeply annoying. Thanks to AAM, I mostly laugh about it now and fantasize about filling up her inbox with old posts explaining why exactly 0% of her complaints merit legal action.

  14. Malissa*

    So at what point does something become so much of an issue that you would actually consider suing an employer? Where does the leap from unhappy to litigious happen?

    1. fposte*

      Does happen or should happen? For should happen, I’d say when there’s a clear enough legal wrong that a lawyer is willing to take it on contingency and when you’ll be out more money if you don’t sue.

      For complaints to regulating agencies, it’s when attempts to resolve the matter in-house have failed.

        1. Dan*

          IMHO, people here either mis-use the term reference, or misunderstand it. It’s not you — I just hear the phrase “give me a bad reference” quite often. And I’m not sure if people fully understand that.

          For true references, I supply them. And if it’s a boss I’m on good terms with, I’m not worried about what he is going to say.

          Yes, employers can speak to people that I don’t list as references. Many applications ask for my previous supervisor and their contact info. If they don’t, and they end up at HR, frequently all they get is “name rank and serial number” and perhaps an “eligible for rehire.”

          People aren’t supposed to lie during reference checks (it’s actually illegal), but they can say negative things if it’s the truth. But I’m not sure if saying “oh he sued us” (the truth) is the same as a “bad reference.”

          I had a former coworker who was one of the most difficult people I’ve had to deal with, like on the verge of PIP territory difficult. He got an offer from a big company on the West Coast that everyone has heard of, and they called my old boss for a reference. I asked my boss what he would say, and he said that he would choose his words carefully, and focus on the things that Person X did well. He’d only address shortcomings if specifically asked.

          But it was all for pretty much not, because my was told when he picked up the phone that the guy was going to get the job unless he turned out to be a serial killer. Of all the things he was, he wasn’t that. My boss was pissed at the company for wasting his time.

          1. Koko*

            But just as your boss was willingly give a review that skewed positively and left out some negative things unless specifically asked, a disgruntled former manager/employer could decide to give a reference that skewed negatively and left out positive things unless specifically asked. It doesn’t take a lie to turn a good reference into a bad one, just a different telling of the truth.

          2. Colette*

            If I were checking a reference, “sued the company” would be pertinent information, and it wouldn’t necessarily try to figure out who was right. And it would potentially be publicly available information that I could find online.

        2. Jennifer*

          And you’re willing to risk ruining your career for life because of this permanent black mark on your record.

          1. Anna*

            See, there’s this thing that people say that makes me think, “Really? Do we overlook truly awful behavior because of a ‘black mark’ on our record?” Are we really saying you would ruin your career for life for standing up to something that should be stood up to? Isn’t that indicative of our screwed up priorities around work? I just get irritated at this fear inherent in that phrase. Don’t stand up for yourself, be willing to take the abuse, and keep your head down. Because if you try to improve things for other people, it will only be bad. I just don’t get it.

            1. Colette*

              Actions have consequences. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sue, but you certainly shouldn’t sue without understanding how it might affect your life.

    2. Mike C.*

      I think for something like that to happen, there’s usually a board of some kind (labor, health and safety, etc) that you can report the incident to.

      As for actual lawsuits, I think you’re more in the realm of them trying to deny you unemployment, a crazy noncompete or issues with company ownership.

    3. Turanga Leela*

      Ooh, I just posted on this above. In general, I’d sue if there was a huge amount of money involved, as fposte says, or if the employer is engaging in a pattern of behavior so repugnant that I’m willing to put myself on the line to stop it. (It would have to be egregious—clear discrimination, quid pro quo sexual harassment, etc.) In either case, I wouldn’t sue unless the case was fairly straightforward.

      I’d also be part of a class action if there was (again) a winnable one with significant money or principles at stake.

    4. Mister Pickle*

      The other day I was reading something about “Why Won’t A Lawyer Take Your Case?”, which is (I think) relevant to this discussion. Ie, a major factor in deciding to sue anyone is whether or not you can find an attorney to take your case. Because in case it’s not obvious, few people have the money to directly pay an attorney for this kind of work, so the attorney is most likely working on a contingency basis. So they’re going to be really careful about what cases they’re going to accept. Suing a tiny company probably won’t be exceptionally profitable, and suing a big company could be a lot of work.

      I guess I’m basically just asking: as often as people talk about suing a company over (say) quid pro quo sexual harassment – how often does it really happen? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

  15. Mister Pickle*

    I love this: “Can They Do That?” or “CTDT?” letters. I think Dan Savage has commented on certain classes of letters showing up in his inbox, that he refers to as “How’d That Happen?” or “HTH?”

    I think that when people write AAM with these kinds of questions, they’re either looking for support or trying to determine if they’re truly getting screwed over (ie, someone asks me to do X – am I alone in thinking that that is outrageous?).

    Also – I know this will sound bad – I don’t think most people really have more than a vague idea of how the law works. I personally know people who don’t know the difference between Civil and Criminal law (which is how we get statements like “I’m going to sue you and have the cops drag your ass to jail!”). Or: I had a friend who saw the movie My Cousin Vinny and afterwards he asked me if the prosecution really has to provide copies of all of its evidence to the defense? It’s not that they’re unintelligent; it’s just that they haven’t ever really had cause to think it through far enough. I hope I don’t come off trying to sound superior – there’s a gawdawful lot about the law that I don’t know!

    1. KerryOwl*

      I don’t think that’s a particularly stupid question. Discovery is a real thing, right? It might not work exactly how it does in the movie, but it’s not like it was made out of whole cloth.

    2. Dan*

      I was let go from a job once under less than ideal circumstances. I was reading this blog around that time, and figured out that I was probably a misclassified contractor. I could have dropped a dime.

      You know what? I let it go. I didn’t want my job back — at that point, the relationship was pretty well soured and it’s clearly time to move. I could have recovered taxes and maybe a few other things. But I decided that it was just time to move on and leave it in the past. It was a short term thing — only three months. If it was a couple of years and say $20k in taxes, ok, I might have gone after that. But for $2k or $3k, I had a lot more to lose than I had to gain.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        I’ve had two circumstances when I could have sued; once for sexual harassment and once for sex discrimination.

        In the first instance, the co-worker I shared a cube with liked to show me the skimpy, Speedo-like underwear he had chosen for the day, make graphic sexual comments about what he’d like to do to me, pretend to masturbate, reach across me so that his arm smooshed my boobs (not just graze them), try to give me shoulder massages, etc. I tried to talk to our manager about it and he told me, “It cost me a lot of money to recruit that guy; it’s up to you to figure out how to get along with him.” I was out of there three weeks later. (This was also the company that tried to make me sign an agreement that if I quit or was fired for cause within the first year, I’d have to pay them $2000 to reimburse them for “recruiting fees”. Yeah. Never signed it, and they quit pushing when I said I’d have to have an attorney look it over. And, yup, I only worked there for six months).

        In the second situation, my manager left for another company and the guy who inherited my department immediately put me on PIP (the day after he took all the men in the dept to a strip club for dinner). I was the top sales person in our division, and had just been awarded a trip to Kuaui for making President’s Club. None of the men in the department were eve close to my sales record, and none of them was put on PIP, just me. Turns out the guy had a history of (a) never hiring women, and (b) firing every woman he has ever inherited. I talked to HR about it. They acknowledged the guy’s pattern, but said that proving discrimination would be very difficult and costly for me, and – heck – the owners of the company loved the guy. I told my old manager, and he hired me at his new company, so I was gone within a week of being put on PIP.

    3. BRR*

      I completely agree with your last paragraph. The law is misrepresented in almost every law tv show, of which there are tons. This is were most people get the majority of their legal knowledge.

    4. louise*

      I’d always assumed a witness testifying in court was indeed when the opposing counsel finds things out–discovery and depositions aren’t very sexy, so they don’t get TV time. Then I was hired by a personal injury law firm (and worked there for 1 year, otherwise known as The Worst Year Of My Life) and found out depositions are where it’s really at. That’s where the exciting Gotcha’s surface and settlement talks really get going.

      1. Mister Pickle*

        Heh heh yeah!

        Actually, The Good Wife seems to be one of the more “realistic” portrayals of the law. It’s far from perfect – but it seems to rely rather less on Awesome Powers Of Oration and Surprise Revelations From The Witness Stand than the average David E. Kelley production.

        Sorry, I don’t mean to de-rail. I worked with a number of PI attorneys back in the 20th century, so I feel for you, louise!

    5. Anonsie*

      Completely agreed. I’ve said it before about these letters– “can they do that” is not “is the law going to stop them from doing that” but rather “is unreasonable enough that I can push back/fight without looking insane?” They want to know if this is a safe thing for them to contest.

        1. Anonsie*

          I’ve done this many times myself, in fact, when having an issue at work with other departments, to get impartial opinion as to what my next steps should be. I’m very willing to talk to people I work with when there are issues, but I also want to make 100% sure I should. Especially when their assertion of facts is different than the ones I have… I don’t want to go out guns blazing only to turn out I was misinformed and they were (rightly) pushing back on me!

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yep, I agree about CTDT letters. I think “can they do that” or “is it legal” boils down to: “My employer is doing X and I don’t like it. Are my feelings justified? What can I / should I do about it?”

        Unfortunately, I think the question wording can unnecessarily derail the comments away from usable advice. The conversation often turns to “duh, of course they can do that” and/or “duh, of course American labor laws don’t prohibit that; doesn’t it suck to work in the U.S.”

        1. Anonsie*

          Yep. Especially in the case of “can they do that” where the legal side is extrapolated– I think it’s more likely that they are asking if their own organization is likely to find their supervisor (slash, whatever offending party they’re talking about) is out of line if they push back on it. It’s “can they really just do this to me without me having any recourse, do you think?”

    6. Liane*

      It’s true that most people really don’t understand a great deal about how the law works, unless they are in that field. I took several graduate school courses in law related to various aspects of public health because the instructor was very interesting. The first 1 or 2 classes in each were what you might call Civics 101–starting with the 3 Branches of (US) Government. My first course I took with him, I was thinking “Are we back in 7th grade?” Until he started explaining the Appeals Court system–and I realized that up until that moment I had no idea you couldn’t appeal the verdict in a criminal case just because you didn’t like it.

  16. Sadsack*

    To the customer service rep being asked to travel for knowledge transfer: you may want to consider how your refusal to participate may impact the severance to which you are entitled. Your employer may rescind an offer of severance payment or may decide to end your employment immediately rather than allow you to continue to work while you find other employment. I have seen both happen to others worked with whose positions were eliminated. As upsetting as it is to be in your position, you may want to consider that it may be better to have a job for as long as possible, even if it seems unfair.

    1. Chuchundra*

      On the other hand, if they aren’t offering a severance package, it could be a good opportunity to negotiate one or ask for other perks or concessions in return for your cooperation.

      1. some1*

        This, plus the LW risks being let go outright if she refuses. As much as this situation sucks, if it were me I’d rather be able to say on applications and in interviews that my last job ended because my location closed/moved (not in my control) than I quit so I wouldn’t have to train my replacement or was let go because I refused to do so (in my control).

    2. Gret*

      Thanks. BTW, I was offered a transfer to the home office which would be financially impossible as my husband’s paycheck is WAY more than mine, and my family, friends, and home are here. I was also offered a position in the un- airconditioned dirty warehouse lifting heavy product and driving a fork lift. Also Not Going To Happen. Then I was bad mouthed for not being a team player because I wouldn’t do either of those options. When asked about severance, unemployment and an up coming bonus, I was told I would get everything I was entitled to. Not knowing what I am “entitled to” makes that a useless statement. And my employer is not “allowing me to continue to work until I find other employment” I am being kept on because I am very good at my job and one of the most knowledgeable CSR’s left. And the people I will be training are inexperienced. Management will use me up and spit me out as soon as they think they don’t need me anymore. Most days I am OK with that awareness. Don’t get me wrong-A paycheck and health insurance will certainly be missed – but my family will survive.

  17. The_Artist_Formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Shifting your hours CAN be legal, unless it’s part of a constructive discharge effort. Example of this = you’ve worked 9-5 in an office job for a number of years. At age 60 they tell you you’re working midnight to 8 am, while hiring someone to take your day hours. You object — the response = “Like it , or lump it. Why don’t you just quit if you don’t like it.”

    About training your replacements — with a pink slip at the end of the road — start looking NOW. If you find something quickly – don’t worry about your replacements or training. Worry about #1 = YOU. And doing so may land you a job with your current firm in the “afterlife” — I have seen, “Look, look. OK, OK, let’s talk about this, OK? We really need you to help us in this effort. Now, we’re willing to deal – how about”… (either a job offer where you’ll survive the cuts, or an enhanced severance beyond what you have on the table now.). I’ve seen both things happen.

  18. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Interesting discussion! I do think it’s true that often when someone asks “is this legal?” they’re also asking “is this as outrageous as it seems to me, and what can I do about it?” But I also think that when you’re asking a stranger to spend their time helping you, it’s not crazy to spend a a little extra time thinking about what you truly want to know, and making sure that your email conveys that.

    (Of course, I’m admittedly someone who loves precision in language and is driven crazy by its absence.)

    1. Pontoon Pirate*

      I think sometimes people feel so frustrated that they don’t really know precisely WHAT they want from you … but they know you’re a valuable resource who has probably seen most of it all. I think the commenters who suspect that the actual question is, “Am I crazy, or are they? And can I do anything about it besides quit?” are closer to the pin on motivating factor, but without survey data I don’t know for sure. :)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Sadly, some people lack the language to even express their question. They don’t know the terminology or they don’t know how to describe what they want to know. (This is me at the car repair shop. )

      I had a family member that went through profound grief. Unfortunately, because she had very little experience with grief and no one around her seemed that helpful, she locked up. She could not describe what she needed to say. This left her locked in heavy grief for years. Once she got with people who were discussing the many aspects of grief then she unlocked. The way she described it was “I had no words for all the pictures in my head.” She learned how to describe her own experiences by listening to others describe theirs.

      I think there is a lot of that going on here. People are learning how to ask their own questions by watching others discuss their situations and ask questions.

      I know I have read some things on here that grabbed my heart. The struggle to find the right words is so hard. You can see it in the writing. So people grab on to whatever they can to get the ball rolling. This maybe the case with the “is it legal” questions. “I don’t know what else to ask. I need help. I have to ask something/anything.”

    3. Cat*

      I do also think that people may feel they need to have a concrete question to ask you – “is this kind of wrong?” feels less legitimate than “is this legal,” even though the first is actually more interesting and usually more helpful for the blog!

    4. anon in tejas*

      yes! I think that it’s definitely folks on the sending end who aren’t really thinking through what they can/want/options. I do wish that folks would be more concise and thoughtful in written communication, and I am sure that you see the brunt of that with the emails, AAM.

  19. Megan*

    These topics always make me giggle. I’m in Australia and cannot for the life of me Understand the knee jerk reaction to ‘is it legal? Can I sue?’ By Americans the second something goes wrong. Here? You talk it out.

    I had a work situation once where I took a crap full time job at Kmart while I was between proper jobs. I told the boss in the interview I had a holiday booked for XYZ dates & she said fine. Then they offered me the job I said it again, again she said fine. I thought the issue was dealt with. Few months in, stocktake week is mentioned. I laugh and tell other coworkers to enjoy as I’ll be away. They say it’s against policy to take leave during that week. I say I have permission. They suggested double checking with the manager. So I do. Guess what? No allowed to go. But I asked you twice, I say, and you agreed, and I took this job knowing that. The manager says too bad, she didn’t realize, no one can leave. Luckily, I had taken a part time job at Subway to supplement the terrible Kmart wage. I talked to my boss about going there full time after I returned from my holiday. She agreed and promoted me to supervisor! I went back to Kmart & quit. I am almost 100% sure if this story was told by an American it would include ‘so can I sue them for breaking a term of verbal contract that I already cleared with them multiple times?’

    It’s humorous to me, that Americans are so quick to jump to legal questions.

    1. jag*

      “‘is it legal? Can I sue?’”

      These are two different questions and we see the first one alone quite often.

      “By Americans the second something goes wrong. Here? You talk it out.”

      Understanding if something is or is not legal doesn’t mean you don’t talk it out.

      ” ‘so can I sue them for breaking a term of verbal contract that I already cleared with them multiple times?’”

      Look at the two questions AAM posted. Neither mentioned lawsuits. They are asking about how to avoid something and keep their jobs. No suits.

    2. Tinker*

      One trick about that, particularly looking in from outside, is that the message gets distorted by what sticks in people’s heads and what they like to repeat — so that, for instance, a “Can I sue?” statement might come from a person who has heard a lot in the media that suing is a thing that people do a lot and they might as well get in on the action, and that statement might get heard by someone who has heard that Americans like to sue and consequently remembers it better as an example of an ongoing pattern.

      I mean, even in this case you’re saying “Well, this thing happened to me and I JUST BET that an American would sue”. Which is fair enough as a statement, but all that it actually proves is that you believe that — where it came from then becomes another question.

      The subject of “litigiousness” is controversial among Americans, and the way folks frame the subject tends to be directly or indirectly influenced by the surrounding politics. That is, for instance, part of why when you do see “Izzit legal?” in an AAM question, you ALSO get a flood of responses about how they were out of line for asking that, and ALSO ALSO get a flood of responses arguing that they’re ultimately asking for justice that the law isn’t delivering. One could as well say that Americans have a culture of being irked at talk of lawsuits, and a culture of being irked at irk over lawsuits. Which we do, actually. It’s a sore point.

      Example — I once got into a conversation with a person who has very strongly-held conservative beliefs as they pertain to the rights of businesses. I was talking about a truck I had at the time that had rusted out at one very specific spot and mentioned that I noticed that whenever I looked at a truck of the same model that was on the road, essentially all of them either had rust holes in that same spot or obvious signs of repair. So, I commented, there must be “something about the design” that causes those trucks to be inclined to rust in that peculiar pattern.

      This wasn’t an observation that I had meant to be particularly controversial — the set of vehicles in question were around 15-20 years old at the time, and were generally old enough to expect a) rust and b) the development of extensive folklore along the line of “the Xs always break at Y mileage”. So it hadn’t occurred to me that I was saying anything at all out of the ordinary — it was a standard “car talk” conversation of a sort that I often had with this person. However, the fact that I mentioned that this pattern was a consequence of the design (the notion of which fascinated me, in a “someone drew a line or decided to put in or take out a hole, and for some reason nobody can know that ultimately means that every one of these millions of trucks rust HERE instead of THERE when they rust” sense) struck a nerve, and the person got quite outraged at me — they snapped “So are you saying it’s DEFECTIVE? Are you going to SUE them? Over THAT?!”

      Well, that’s not exactly a rational conclusion, and if the person went away from that remembering how the culture of litigiousness caused me to consider suing a company over a rust patch on a 20-year-old car, that’d be a distortion of what actually happened prompted by both personal associations (the nature of their profession lends itself to a lot of conflict between businesses and private citizens, some of which are legitimately not reasonable) and partisan ties (they are strongly tied to a political perspective that plays the narrative of unjust lawsuits extensively).

      Also, and maybe it’s burying the lede a bit, partly because it’s stepping into the middle of an ongoing internal conflict it can be a little dicey to float observations of the form “People from X-country do Y soooooo much!” Bit like the Millennial thing on many accounts, actually.

  20. Brett*

    In the middle of trying to find a way out from the ridiculous ethics clause situation I am in, and that made me wonder about something.

    Is it illegal to make contractual agreements with competitors to not hire each other’s former employees? Starting to find out that the governments in the area have a whole network of formal agreements that they will not hire employees from each other without paying hefty poaching penalties.

    This seems like a form of collusion that goes beyond non-compete agreements, but would it actually be illegal?

    1. Brett*

      And yes, I jumped to “is it illegal”. But as long as we were on these types of questions, I thought this one was genuinely weird. I’ve talked to lawyers about non-compete law, which just does not apply when dealing with governments here, but I’ve now found several dozen of these reciprocal no poaching agreements in place with my employer and it is starting to get weird.

      1. Mt*

        If they are compete with each other it’s illegal. If they do business with each other than it is not

    2. doreen*

      It apparently can be illegal for private companies- Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel settled a case with the Department of Justice regarding claims that they suppressed pay by agreeing not to recruit workers from each other but as far as I can tell, it was based on anti-trust law not employment law and I don’t think anti-trust law applies to governments. And while I’m sure they portray it as an “ethics clause” , in reality it seems to be a matter of anti-poaching agreements which have nothing to do with ethics.

      As to finding your way out- what level of government are you talking about? If it’s a number of county/municipal governments that have these agreements, I’d contact the Attorney General’s office and ask if it’s legal. If the state government is involved, I’d contact the US attorney’s office.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Anti-trust laws? This is bizarre.
        So it must be whoever collects up the most former employers now owns the former employer?
        No, that is not how companies are merged/acquired.
        Not getting this.

        1. doreen*

          I would be lying if I said I fully understood it, but apparently the DOJ investigation and the civil lawsuits were based on the idea that these agreements restrained competition for employees in the same way that price-fixing reduces competition for customers. It has nothing to do with mergers/acquisitions- antitrust law covers more than just that.

        2. jag*

          It’s not bizarre.

          Anti-trust laws are laws that aim to maintain competitive markets. In this case, it’s trying to keep the labor market competitive by stopping collusion among companies. If the companies collude to not hire each other’s employees, it reduces competition in the labor market.

  21. Lunch time*

    I don’t think that merely asking the question on an internet forum means that someone is ready to bring up a lawsuit against their employer. As many have said, people ask the question to get a general understanding about what can be done reasonably when an employer does something they may not agree with. I sure, most people have experience something similar in the work environment–if not Kudos to you. I feel like some people snark at people asking the is it legal question–it’s better to ask a question and get the answer then to not ask and never know. Afterall, that’s what this forum is about.

  22. Gret*

    Thanks for responding to my question about required travel to train my replacements prior to my job being terminated.Unfortunately, I do not think calmly discussing the situation will work with my management. There is a definite “my way or the highway” mentality and I have no faith or trust left in them.
    I guess my only option is to order expensive meals three times a day…. I am so hoping that I get a job offer prior to my “field trip” I’d love to be able to say TAKE YOUR JOB AND SHOVE IT…

Comments are closed.