10 Things Managers Should Never Ask Employees to Do

Office Manager Holding Meeting With Her Team with blueprints laid on a table between them.
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In the United States, unless you have an employment contract, a manager can require an employee to do just about anything that's legal. But, should they? 

Sometimes accidents happen in the workplace—water leaks, copy machines break, infestations occur, the internet goes down, among other unexpected messes that can make the office environment unhealthy or interrupt work—and someone has to clean up. So what should a manager do?

And, what are ten things that a manager should never do?

Anything You Wouldn't Do

Let's talk about cleaning up dirty messes. They are unpleasant tasks, and you likely have maintenance services or building staff to take care of them. But what happens when you are stuck with a mess in the middle of the workday and that service or staff can't take care of it?

If there is someone who has that duty as part of their job description, fabulous. If not, you have to assign it. Don't assign work like that out if you aren't taking your turn. Sooner or later, in a small business, everyone has to do gross things. The boss gets to do it first, otherwise, don't ask your employees.

Cancel a Vacation

Sometimes the world comes to an end, and you truly do need all hands on deck. However, most crises are caused by a lack of planning. Don't ask an employee to cancel a pre-planned vacation, especially if there are other friends and family members counting on that person, and they have purchased tickets.

Sure, if Bob asked if he could take Tuesday off to clean out his basement, it's okay to ask him if he can take Wednesday instead, but otherwise, vacation time is a sacred time. It's part of the compensation package, so don't require an employee to cancel.

Work Off the Clock

This one should be obvious, but it's not. So often managers are required to reach certain payroll targets, and they get punished for authorizing overtime, for instance. It means that a manager can be tempted to tell employees to clock out and then finish mopping up for the night.

Don't do this. Not only is it illegal—all of your non-exempt employees must be paid for every hour worked—it makes your employees bitter and angry. Not a good idea.

Falsify Records

Again, an obvious no-no, but it happens all of the time. It's rarely big things, like falsifying documents to embezzle millions of dollars (although that does happen).

It's usually the little things—like the date received on a document, or sending a vendor an email saying that the check is in the mail when it's not. You and your employees should strive for 100% honesty. Don't ask them to lie for you. They will lose all respect for you.

Take the Fall for You

You tell your employees to do X, and it's a failure. When your boss calls you on it, do you say, “I'll speak to Jane about that and make sure that it never happens again.” Or, do you say the right thing, which is, “It was my idea; I take full responsibility.”

So many bosses do the former. It's understandable—it's a self-preservation reflex—but it's wrong. Your mistake, your consequence. And, that goes for a lot of things you didn't specifically authorize or request either. Your department is your responsibility. It is never okay to throw employees under the bus—even if they made the error.

Work Crazy Hours

Some businesses have crazy hours, especially cyclical ones. Every tax accountant knows that they won't see their families between late February and April 15. But, that's part of the job. It's okay to have a deadline that requires an extra push from time to time, but it's not okay to push your employees to the brink by making them work more hours than they had signed on to work.

If your department isn't getting things done within 40ish hours (or whatever the standard is for your industry), you either need to get approval for a new employee, or change priorities.

Put Up With an Abusive Customer

Every manager should familiarize themselves with harassment laws that make a business liable for sexual, racial, or gender discrimination within the workplace. But, those laws don't stop if the perpetrator is a customer. If you have an abusive customer that is either violating the law by harassing your employee or is just a jerk, you shouldn't force your reporting employees to deal with that person.

Either allow your employee to turn and walk away, take over the customer yourself, or kick the customer to the curb. If it's a business to business relationship, you can often quell the problem by calling your customer's boss, but if not, your employees deserve respectful professional treatment. See that they get it.

Put Up With a Bully Coworker

Bullying isn't illegal in the US, as long as the reason for the bullying isn't race, gender, or some other protected class. But, no manager should allow bullying in her department.

Work hard to make your department a place where people act with respect. If your departmental bully can't be nice, kick her to the curb—even if she is a top performer. No one deserves to have to work with a jerk, and as the manager, it's your job to get rid of the jerks.

Work While Truly Sick

Yes, if you sent everyone with the sniffles home, everyone would be out of sick days by January 10, but for illnesses with fevers, vomiting, or other contagious conditions, let your employee recover. This is especially true in food service, which is notorious for not allowing sick days.

If you force employees to come into work while sick, they will spread the germs, and everyone else will get sick too. Send them home; they'll recover, and the rest of you will avoid the newest plague (hopefully). Good managers let employees use sick time (and provide sick time in the first place).

Donate to Charity

Yes, charity is fabulous, and many companies want their employees to participate in charitable giving. However, if your employee does not wish to donate part of their salary to the company's cause (or even United Way, which has many causes), do not force them.

When you offered them a salary, the employee was counting on that being their actual pay. Requiring them to donate is docking their salary. You may think their salary is generous, and they should be grateful, but you have no idea what their situation is.

And, even if you know that they're buying a brand new sports car every year, it's still their money. Do not punish anyone for not supporting the company's cause.

If you take care of these 10 workplace issues—or better, never let them get started in the first place—you will have taken major steps to create a workplace that employees will appreciate. You'll reduce voluntary turnover and have happier, more satisfied employees.