While it would be nice to think that managers are always 100 percent truthful and accurate when talking to employees, the reality is managers sometimes say things that aren’t quite true. Sometimes this is because they’ve been misinformed and don’t actually know the correct information, but sometimes it’s because it’s easier to shade the truth.
Here are four things that managers often tell their workers that just aren’t true.
1. “You can’t discuss your pay with your co-workers.”
Fact: Companies regularly tell employees they’re not permitted to discuss pay with each other. But this is a direct violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which says that employers cannot prevent employees from discussing wages among themselves. The law, which protects employees’ ability to organize and collectively bargain, reasons that employees wouldn't be able to organize if they were forbidden from talking with each other about pay or other working conditions. (One important note here is the prohibition on banning salary discussions doesn’t cover every employee; it exempts management-level employees, but the vast majority of workers are covered.)
2. “I can’t let you do _________ because then I’d have to let everyone else do it too.”
Fact: You might have heard a statement like this if you’ve asked your manager to let you telecommute, leave early every Friday or otherwise do something outside your office norms. The reality, though, is that managers generally do have leeway to approve special arrangements for one person that they don’t approve for everyone else – and they’ll often bend in areas like these to keep a great employee happy. What your manager might really be saying with this line is “I’m only willing to go so far to make you happy, and this is past that line.”
That said, there are times when “if I let you do it, I’d have to let everyone else do it too” can be true. While no law prohibits managers from giving special privileges to top performers or even just to their personal favorites, it is illegal to dole out privileges based on protected classes like race, religion, sex or ethnicity. So some employers are hesitant to grant special privileges in case a pattern emerges in who does and doesn’t receive those privileges, which can trigger concerns about this type of illegal discrimination.
3. “You have to resign.”
Fact: Your employer can fire you, but they can’t force you to resign if you don’t want to. That decision is yours. If you refuse to resign, you might get fired – but some employees prefer that, since it often preserves their eligibility for unemployment benefits. Of course, some employees do prefer to resign when given the choice, to avoid having a firing in their job history. But that’s not always the advantage it might appear to be on the surface, since most interviewers are going to be curious about why you quit your job without another position lined up and will assume that something happened that led to your separation.
If your employer does push you to resign, realize that they’re asking you to do something for them, which means that you have some negotiating power and can consider negotiating things like severance and what your company will tell future reference-checkers.
4. “Sign this document, but don’t worry – we don’t really enforce it.”
Fact: If someone tells you not to worry about what you’re signing, that’s a flag that you should read more closely, not less. If your employer truly had no intention of ever enforcing a signed agreement, they wouldn't be asking for it in the first place. That doesn’t mean that they’re intentionally trying to hoodwink you; they might simply not foresee the situations that would make the document relevant in the future.
In any case, don’t believe assurances that a signed document isn’t ever going to be used against you. Once you sign, it doesn’t matter what you were told or how much the significance of the agreement was downplayed – it’s a binding legal document, and you can be held to it.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of “How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager,” co-author of “Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results” and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.