Things You Should Never Say to Employees

Aug 9, 2021

If your commercial clients are insured through Jencap, they’ve got great coverage … but you still want to help them avoid situations where they’ll have to use it. In the workplace, there are many things employers can say that violate state and federal laws or can set them up for a future lawsuit.  Even the most well-intentioned and innocent comments can get you in trouble.  Here is a list of some common “trouble phrases” that employers and managers should never say to their employees.

Regarding Taking Days Off

“All the days off you’ve requested may impact your job.”
This comment can be interpreted as interfering with an employee’s right to take leave. 
There are laws, federal, state, and local, giving people the right to take leave without job consequences.

“Since you’re the dad and not the mom, you shouldn’t take parental leave.”
You should never prevent an employee from taking leave because of their gender. Both fathers and mothers have the right to take leave for a newborn or child with a serious health condition.

“When you take sick days, you need to find someone to cover your shift/work.”
Many states require businesses to provide paid sick leave, and those laws state employees can’t be required to find replacements in order to take sick days.


“Are you pregnant?”
This may seem like an innocent question if you see a woman developing a noticeable bump and you want to congratulate her. Just remember that employees aren’t obligated to inform their employers in the event of a pregnancy unless they’re seeking pregnancy-related leave or accommodations. This question could lead to an employee feeling her right to privacy was violated. 

“With all the new technology, we really need to hire some young people.”
Even if you haven’t heard this statement in a workplace, you still might be aware of a manager employing this strategy during a selection process. However, excluding workers in certain age groups when hiring for a position violates nondiscrimination laws, and doing so could open up a lawsuit.

(After receiving a discrimination or harassment complaint) “I know them, and they wouldn’t do that.”
Every discrimination or harassment complaint MUST be taking seriously–no matter who is the subject of the complaint. Even the “nicest” people can make mistakes or have unconscious bias. If there is a conflict of interest because you know the subject personally, assign an impartial investigator.


“I believe you.”
When you want to be empathetic to an employee who feels violated, it may be hard to refrain from saying something like this. However, if you’re in charge of investigating, you have to remain impartial. Imagine if you had to terminate the accused person for harassment, but then they decided to sue you for wrongful termination on the grounds that you weren’t impartial?

“You look great today.”
This also seems fairly innocent, but it could be considered harassment or bullying in another context or with a different intent. Because there is a lot of room for misunderstanding depending on the receiver, it’s best to focus your comments on employee performance rather than how they look. 

“They were just joking/having fun.”
Unless you’d like to become a part of the harassment complaint, then you need to take all harassment complaints seriously. Employers have a responsibility to investigate each complaint and take corrective action.

If you use profanity in the workplace or don’t address an employee’s regular use of profanity, you could be liable for permitting a hostile work environment. Religion is protected under the Civil Rights Act, and another employee could find the language offensive because of their religious beliefs.

Requests to Avoid

“Can you not mention your raise to anyone else?”
Employees have the right to act together to improve their wages and terms of employment according to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). You can let someone know not every employee is receiving a raise, but you can’t ask them not to share their pay rate. 

“Instead of overtime pay, I’ll give you more paid time off.”
Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week according to federal law. Employers cannot substitute by giving comp time. 

Promises They Can’t Keep

“Once you get through your probationary period, it’s smooth sailing from there.”
“Don’t worry; you’ll always have a job here.”
Any statement that could be interpreted as a promise of future employment can change an employee’s “at-will” status, a term meaning they can be terminated at any time for a lawful reason. You want to maintain your flexibility to make employment decisions in your company’s best interest. You never know when an employee’s performance may slip or your business’ circumstances may change. 

Avoiding these or similar phrases should keep your insureds from walking into territories where they could be held liable. If your commercial clients’ words do get them in trouble, Jencap offers professional programs to cover anything that might happen in the workplace.

Learn more about our customized solutions for professionals and get a quote here. You can read more industry insights here. 

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