Evil HR Lady: 6 Workplace Myths You Probably Believe

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Lots of people think they know what the rules are and what their rights are at work. But lots of people are wrong. Here are some of the myths and realities of the modern workplace.

1. You can only be fired for cause after your 90 day probationary period has passed.

False. In 49 out of 50 states (Montana is the only exception), unless you have a specific contract (such as with a union) you are what is known as an “at will” employee. This means you can quit whenever you want, but it also means that they can fire you for “any reason or no reason.” So, you annoy your boss? She can fire you. Your shoes don't match? They can fire you. You come in late to work, interrupt people in meetings, or pick your  nose? They can fire you. The only exceptions are things prohibited by law—such as your race or gender or disability. Otherwise, passing your probationary period is meaningless as far as terminations are concerned.

2. HR has to keep everything you tell them confidential.

False. Most HR departments do keep things confidential, but they report into the company just the same way you do and are under no obligation to keep things quiet. Most do, but there is no law requiring it. And in fact, there are some things which, by law, they must talk about. For instance, if you make a complaint that your boss is sexually harassing you, even if you ask them specifically not to say anything, they must investigate.

3. It's illegal, in an interview, to ask...

False. Many people think that it's illegal to ask about your marital status, or if you have children, or if you go to church. It's not. It may be illegal to make a decision based on the answers to those questions, but it's not illegal to ask in the first place.  Some of these things are blatantly obvious from the second you walk in the door (your race, age and marital status—wedding rings are dead give aways), and some are obvious from your resume (if your college degree is from 1985, you're not 22).

4. The most experienced person gets the promotion.

False. Unless there's a union contract which specifies that promotions are based on seniority, the big boss can promote whoever he wants, even if that is the new guy hired last week. Keep in mind that managing a group is different than doing the work, so it's possible that the best performer isn't the right person for the promotion. And, even if the best performer should get the promotion, there's no law requiring bosses to make good choices.

5. If you don't finish your work by quitting time, your boss doesn't have to pay you if you stay late.

False. If you are paid by the hour or are eligible for overtime (non-exempt) you have to be paid for every hour you work, whether or not your boss told you to do it. If you have to stay late to finish a project, you still have to be paid for it—and if it takes you over 40 hours for the week, you have to be paid overtime. Your boss can fire you for working slowly, but you must be paid for all hours worked.

6. Companies can only confirm titles and dates of service in reference checks.

False. Your former (or current!) company can say whatever they want about you, as long as it's true. So, if you were a whiny pain in the neck, they can say that. If you were late all the time, they can say that. Many companies have policies against saying this, but reference checkers will tell you that most managers are willing to break that policy. This is one of the many reasons to always try to leave on good terms.

This article is sponsored by Western Governors University, a nonprofit, accredited, online university. WGU offers online bachelor degree programs in business and online MBA programs. To find out more, please visit www.wgu.edu/wisecareers_business

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