Things You're Not Obligated To Tell Your Employer

by Caitlin Flynn

It goes without saying that when we start a new job, we're eager to immediately put our best foot forward and make a great first impression. And, of course, we strive to sustain our reputation through hard work, professionalism, and proving that we're team players who are willing to take on new projects and learn from our mistakes. Workplace environments vary wildly — and sometimes the lines between our professional and personal lives become blurry. Many of us have been in situations where we feel a strong loyalty to our company, our supervisor, or both — and with that comes the desire to be completely honest about major things going on in our lives, from health problems to pursuing a new career path. But, whether you love or hate your job, there are certain things that you're not obligated to tell your employer.

We spend most of our time at work — so it's natural that we form friendships with our colleagues and often become close with our supervisors. As a result, some of us may feel more comfortable than others disclosing information that we're not required to tell our employer. However, it's important to know your rights as an employee — because plenty of senior level employees won't hesitate to ask us personal questions. It's ultimately up to you what you share and who you share it with, but be aware of these five things that you're not obligated to tell your employer.

1. Physical & Mental Health Problems

Generally, you're not obligated to tell your employer about any ongoing mental or physical health problems as long as they don't affect your ability to successfully perform your duties — according to HR-focused website Personnel Today, "employees do not have to provide information about themselves." Of course, there are some exceptions — if you know that you need special accommodations in order to give your best performance, you'll want to have a chat with Human Resources about the best way to approach this with your boss.

However, many people with physical and mental ailments are highly successful and don't require any accommodations. In this case, it's totally fine to not tell your employer. Many bosses are totally well-intentioned and may become worried about overwhelming you — but, as a result, it could give them pause about promoting you to a position that comes with more stress and responsibility than your current role. They may also become worried that your condition will worsen and potentially leave the department in a lurch if you do need time off.

2. You're Looking For A New Job

Many of us feel guilty for leaving a job with a mere two weeks notice — after all, most of us have witnessed how it can cause some upheaval and temporarily increase the workload of our colleagues. Of course, we want to be honest, especially if we're close with our direct supervisors. But know that you're certainly not obligated to tell your employer that you're job hunting, although there can be personal exceptions. (For example, if you have a close, trusting relationship with your direct boss, he or she could be a great reference.) As Alison Green at Inc. writes, in most cases you should not "tell your employer that you're job-searching until you have accepted another offer. This is because many employers, once they know you're looking, will begin treating you differently -- for instance, giving you fewer plum assignments or no long-term assignments, curtailing any investments in your training or development, seeing you as disloyal or a short-timer, and in some cases, even letting you go."

So think very carefully before talking about this to a boss, because disclosing this information can backfire in a big way. Many employers take it personally and may begin to mistreat you in some way if they know you're hoping to leave the company.

And, job hunting takes time and usually involves interviewing with more than one company — so it may be a few months before you actually secure a new position. That can feel like a lifetime if your employer has turned on you, and they may even begin to harp on every tiny mistake and make a case for firing you.

3. Why You Need A Day Off

We're all entitled to a specific number of personal days, vacation days, and sick days each year. This number varies depending on your position and your company, but one thing applies to everyone — we don't have to tell our employers why we're taking a day or week off and how we'll spend that time. Typically, if our bosses ask us about an upcoming vacation, they're being friendly and are interested in where we might be traveling or if we're planning a fun staycation. (You're still not obligated to answer, but this question tends to be conversational and casual.)

But when it comes to personal days, they're referred to as "personal" for a reason. We're not obligated to explain that we need the day off to deal with a stressful family matter, get an annual colonoscopy, or anything else that's — for lack of a better phrase — not really any of their business. The same applies for sick days, although most companies require a doctor's note if you're out for a certain number of consecutive days. In short, you don't have to explain anything unless you need to take more time off than your contract allows. If that does happen, it's best to talk with Human Resources and ask for their advice about how to approach the subject with your boss.

4. Your Contacts

This especially applies to jobs in sales and recruiting — so, before you accept the job offer, make sure you have in writing the specific guidelines about sharing contacts. If your employer later pushes for you to hand over your contact list, you'll want to have your initial employment agreement in print. As Liz Ryan wrote on LinkedIn, "When you take a new job, clarify everybody's expectations with respect to your precious contact list. Unless it's been clearly communicated, your contacts are your own."

Many companies have employee referral bonus programs, so in those cases, sharing contacts can be a win-win situation because you could help someone secure a job and get paid for it. But it needs to be established early on that it's not your job to market your company's products in your free time, and your personal networking contacts belong to you alone.

5. Details About Your Personal Life

When certain personal issues arise, you may need to provide the details if you'll require time off. For example, an illness, a pregnancy, or an urgent need to take off more time than usual to care for your children or parents. Otherwise, it's totally up to you what you share about your personal life — and this varies greatly depending on your supervisor. I've had certain bosses who I didn't relate to on a personal level, so I never felt the need to talk about my relationship status, my current TV obsession, or how annoying my landlord was. On the other hand, I had a longtime boss who became like an aunt to me, and she and I would have casual chats on slow work days and those conversations brightened both our moods.

Kathi Elster, executive coach and author, suggests on that there are certain personal issues you definitely don't want to bring up at work: financial problems, issues with your children's behavior, relationship woes, and feuds with your neighbors. She also notes that we should be mindful about how we decorate our workspace — for example, a few personal photos are fine, but it's unwise to include that picture of you and your friends sipping margaritas on the beach during spring break.

Every company and every supervisor is different, so it's ultimately your call what you do or don't share with your employer — but know that you're entitled to your privacy and it's OK to not answer an invasive or personal question if it makes you uncomfortable.

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