A 2000-person survey conducted by SHRM in 2015 revealed that 1 in 3 U.S. workers hoped to change jobs within the next six months. If you’re in the HR industry or a manager at any place of employment, the possibility of losing 33% of your workforce at a moments notice should keep you up at night. Of those surveyed, 42 percent cited their reason as potentially leaving due to employment in a toxic work environment. As there are many variables that can lead to a nefarious work environment such as office politics, gossip, favoritism, etc.–we’re going to focus on a few toxic workplace policies implemented by some employers that should be avoided at all costs.

Workplace policies employers should avoid

toxic workplace policies frustrated employees

1. An overly strict dress code

There’s a time and place for your employees to look their best. Those times include:

  • Any client-facing situation
  • Any big meeting and/or presentation with upper management such as VPs, COOs, CEOs, Owners and more

However, how often are every single one of your employees going to be in these situations? A smart and balanced company will know how to tread the lines of what is appropriate to wear and what isn’t based on the job functions of their employees. Do you really need “Margret” who works in information technology (IT) to be in her best pants suit and heels to troubleshoot technology problems for internal staff? Probably not.

Companies with overly-strict, outdated dress code policies can produce a toxic environment because, frankly, most adults don’t like to be treated as children. Most adults know what is and what isn’t appropriate. It’s up to management to tackle these “problem employees” head-on, case-by-case. Policies that are created for an entire staff based off of how a few bad apples have behaved in the past is not a good way to go about creating them. It will take a little time and effort, but the leadership team of a company should be able to determine a fair dress code policy based off of work responsibilities.

2. Requiring a doctor’s note to use sick leave

Imagine waking up with a common cold or flu-like symptoms on any weekday morning that ends with the letter “Y”.

You feel awful, so you know your production will be minimal at best throughout the day. You also know you might be contagious and you don’t want to spread your sickness around the office. However, you’re currently stuck between a rock and a hard place because your employer requires you to get a doctor’s note before they will even think about approving your designated sick time hours.


Why must you be forced to leave your bed for an appointment you already know the outcome of? “Oh, that. Drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of bed rest,” says your doctor. “Why do you need a note for this?” she continues. “Because management thinks I’m a child, ” you reply unhappily. Requiring sick workers to drag themselves through this type of process is an unnecessary burden for those who just need a few days’ rest.

If an employer gives their employees sick time to use when they are under-the-weather, they shouldn’t have to be required to provide a note from a doctor just to be able to use them. These types of unnecessary toxic workplace policies could lead to an unfriendly work environment which could hinder production, create drama and more around the office.

Obviously, if there is a clear abuse of overtaking sick and PTO days, an employer should have the right to require a note from a doctor. But in the meantime, what’s the advantage in treating your workforce like children?

3. Strict arrival and departure times

This is solely based on a few factors such as:

  • If you’re an hourly vs salary employee
  • Job role

Hourly employees are required to clock in and out because they are eligible for overtime pay, while salary employees make what they make even if they work longer or shorter hours. So this section doesn’t really apply to hourly waged workers.

Your job role is also an indicator if you should adhere to strict arrival and departure times. For example, if you’re a receptionist and your job is to answer the phones and/or greet walk-ins beginning at 9 a.m., then you better be there right then and there (or 5 minutes early to better prepare).

However, if you are a salary worker in a role that doesn’t require any client-facing or everyday timely related duties–why should you be expected to arrive at 9 a.m. on the dot? Why would any manager for that matter work themselves up over such a minuscule reason and make it an issue with you? They shouldn’t, and if you’re in a situation where you’re being reamed out for being a little late or taking off a little early, you are in a toxic work environment.

Performance should be the key measurement for quality work and results, not by if someone is sitting at their desk by a certain time.

4. Owning all ideas created by employees

While it’s common practice for employers to require any ideas thought up by an employee during work hours regarding their product/industry to remain concealed within the organization itself–so business secrets and developments aren’t loosely disclosed when they shouldn’t be. Some employees might walk into a situation where they willingly give up any and all ideas they have, even if it has nothing to do with their employer’s product or industry.

Employers who do this will typically make their employees sign a non-compete agreement or sometimes called an “assignment agreement”. What this means, depending on the stipulations written in by the company, an employee may end up agreeing to give away all their creative rights during their employment period, and possibly over a number of years after leaving.

As these policies are aimed to prevent employees and future ex-employees by divulging company secrets or directly competing them with another company, the fact they require to own any and all ideas outside of the company scope of operations is ridiculous. As these documents are all put together differently and not every company has the same policy regarding non-compete disclosures–it’s important that employers not overstep their bounds in creative and entrepreneurial pursuits by their employees.

This type of overreach and selfish-ploy to control their employees’ everyday lives, ideas and creativity can lead to a toxic workplace environment.

5. Moonlighting is “illegal”

Another overreaching policy some employers will force upon their workforce is a “No Moonlighting Policy.” Moonlighting is the act of working some extra hours for yourself or for another organization during the after-hours of your full-time job.

What this means is that if you sign this agreement with your company, you accept that you won’t be able to do the following to make a little extra income:

    • Freelance
    • Work extra hours as a server or bartender
    • Driving for a rideshare company such as Lyft or Uber
    • Selling trinkets you designed or created online
    • Pretty much anything that will allow you to make extra money

What is the point of this type of policy?

Some employers are afraid that you will be just too darn tired to give it your all for the full eight hours you’re expected to work. They don’t think you, as an adult, are capable of juggling your work life along with the rest of your life. This is another example of a toxic workplace policy that should be avoided.

If you enjoyed this list, check out the 7 Most Outlandish Excuses for Being Late to Work You’ll Read!