7 Things You Should Never Ask Your Employees To Do

In a small company, job descriptions can be fluid, and everyone should be expected to pitch in. But there are some lines you shouldn't cross.
Good managers know when they are going too far. (Photo: Fred Ho/Shutterstock)

A good manager knows how to delegate. But there’s a big difference between delegating and taking an employee for granted.

In a small business with only a handful of employees, the fact that job descriptions are typically informal and fluid puts employees in a vulnerable position. It’s your responsibility as their boss to make sure that vulnerability isn’t exploited.

How to do that? Start with reading these suggestions for eight things you should never ask an employee to do.

Drive your car or watch your kids

Asking your employee to run any personal errand, such as picking up your dry cleaning, is outside the scope of their work and, let’s face it, demeaning. But there are other problems with such requests.

If an employee is given a task that involves your possessions — especially an expensive one, like your car, not to mention priceless non-possessions, including your kids — that could open the door to legal complications if something should go wrong. Let’s say your employee gets into a fender bender while driving your car to the mechanic, and your car insurance doesn’t cover a driver who isn’t you.

“If an employee is doing something that’s requested by an employer, any liabilities would likely be covered by worker’s compensation,” said Shelby Skeabeck, a management-side employment lawyer with Shawe & Rosenthal in Baltimore, Maryland. “But on a practical level, if the errand you’re asking your employee to do falls outside the scope of regular employment and something goes wrong, it potentially could be an issue.”

Related: 6 Legal Mistakes Small Business Owners Make (and How to Avoid Them)

Bring you lunch


Having lunch delivered is one of the simplest things you’ll do all day. (Photo: lassedesignen/Shutterstock)

It’s one thing if an employee offers to pick up lunch for you while she’s out — and if you reciprocate on occasion. Otherwise, it’s 2017: If you can’t take the time to leave the premises to buy lunch, there’s little excuse not to order in. Even if your favorite restaurant doesn’t deliver, it’s likely you can arrange for a company like GrubHub or Skip the Dishes to deliver it for you. Amazon Prime even has its own fast food delivery service because, well, it’s Amazon.

Talk about politics

It’s a good rule of thumb never to talk politics at work. But it can be a hard subject to avoid these days — and there may even be some instances in which it’s legitimate to talk in the workplace about political issues that directly affect your business or even your employees. But never put employees on the spot by asking how they feel about an issue or worse, how they voted. And resist the urge to turn water cooler conversation into political debate; you never know where your employees stand — and even if you think you do, it’s still a bad idea. Remember, it’s your job to foster a culture of professionalism and respect.

Donate to or participate in charity events


Participating in community or charity events is a noble cause, but don’t force your employees to get involved. (Photo: steve bridge/Shutterstock)

You strive for corporate social responsibility in your business. Maybe you sponsored a few charity 5Ks or donated a raffle item to the last school fundraiser. Perhaps you’ve encouraged your team to get involved in community service events. All commendable efforts. But remember that like political beliefs, charitable causes are very personal.

“Employees should never feel pressured to donate or participate in company charity events,” said Brad Stultz, human resources coordinator for Totally Promotional, an Ohio-based promotional product maker. “An employer can inform employees of charity events/programs, but should not place pressure on employees to participate. Employees should be given the freedom to do with their money as they will, without influence from their employer.”

Perform embarrassing rituals

Leave hazing, even if it seems like a harmless bonding opportunity, to fraternities.

“Some bosses seem to think it’s OK to force new employees into needlessly embarrassing situations, to ‘break them in,’” said John Crowley, a human resources blogger in the U.K.. “For example, hopping on one leg and singing ‘we all live in a yellow submarine’ in front of 20 other employees. Really? There’s some value to taking people outside of their comfort zones and encouraging them to be more confident. But please don’t go too far.”

Work through lunch

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which applies to almost every business in the United States, if you give your hourly employee a break, you must completely relieve them of any duties for the given break time.

“In some shape or form, a small business is going to be covered by some wage and hour law depending on the state you work in,” said Skeabeck, the employment attorney. “So if you come in an assign work to an employee you’ve already told can take a break, they are entitled to take an uninterrupted break at another time.”

The implications go beyond employee morale; you could be stepping into overtime territory, Skeabeck said. “There’s the potential that if you’re forcing an employee to work on his or her break, you could be setting yourself up for litigation.”

Work while sick

employee sick

Forcing an employee to work while sick doesn’t help anyone. (Photo: Solomia Malovana/Shutterstock)

Here’s one surefire way to foster bitterness in your workforce: Make your employees work when they’re sick.

Related: Paid Sick Leave from the Business Owner’s Perspective

“Good managers should let employees use sick time or unpaid time for such occasions,” Stultz said. And that’s not just for the employee’s benefit; it could end up saving your business from an even bigger problem. “An employee who is ill not only underperforms, but also stands to infect other co-workers, which could leave the employer in a lurch.”

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