There are many misconceptions about the workplace that, sensible as they might be, simply aren’t true. Some actions, while undoubtedly a bad idea, won’t necessarily get you fired. Below are five common myths that are good to know — whether you’re the boss or the newest hire in the field.

Myth 1: You Can’t Be Fired If You’re Not Guilty

In all states but Montana, employment is at-will. That means your boss can fire you for any reason, without having to prove “just cause.” Technically, your boss can say, “I don’t like Joe’s shoes,” and you’re out the door. Most companies don’t operate that way, of course. But if you’re accused of violating a workplace rule, you don’t have the same rights you’d have in a criminal court. There is a catch, though: Employers must demonstrate that the termination wasn’t due to race, gender or other protected category.

Myth 2: Negative References Are Illegal

As nice as it would be to force your former boss to be pleasant during a reference check phone call, the law isn’t on your side. While many companies have policies against giving references, your former boss can legally say anything that is true. “We fired Jane because she was consistently late” is perfectly legal — so long as you were consistently late.

Myth 3: Salaries Are Confidential

As a general rule, salaries are confidential, but that’s mostly a cultural norm, not law. Your boss can post your salary on a billboard if she wishes. She can tell your coworkers. She can leave a list of everyone’s salaries on the copy machine if she wants. Most companies won’t — secrecy about salaries benefits the company, not employees — but it’s perfectly legal to share.

Myth 4. Bullying Is Illegal

Nobody should be a jerk, that’s for sure. Bullies should be fired. But there’s no law prohibiting bullying — as long as the bully is an equal opportunity jerk. It’s illegal to target a specific group, such as female technicians, but if the boss bullies everyone then it’s legal. Horrible, but legal.

Myth 5. Working off the Clock is OK

If you are eligible for overtime pay, you can’t work off the clock — ever. Not even if you’re fixing a mistake you made earlier in the day. Not even if you do it without telling your boss. Federal law requires you be paid for every minute you work, and the company can get fined if you work off the clock. Your boss may ask you to work off the clock, but if she does, she’s violating federal law. Say, “I’m sorry, but it puts the company at risk to do that. I’ll have to record this on my time sheet.”

ABOUT Suzanne Lucas

Avatar photoSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about Human Resources and Business for a number of different publications.