What Are My Rights as an Employee?
When an employer pays you for your work, they take on responsibilities as well. These include understanding your rights in the workplace and taking steps to ensure they are not violated. Workers need to know their rights so they can identify and remedy violations.
There are several categories of employee rights:
- Discrimination and harassment
You have a right as a worker to not experience harassment or discrimination. Discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, genetic information, and disability is illegal.
- Safety and Health
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversees the right of workers to a reasonably safe work environment. You have a right to appropriate training, records of workplace injuries, testing results, and to file complaints with OSHA that are confidential.
You have a right to be a whistleblower, to file a complaint, without retaliation for doing so.
Workers have a right to fair and equal pay for equal work done. In other words, you are entitled to a reasonable wage and the same wages as anyone else in the same position with your employer.
- Time off Work
In specific situations, you have a right to non-paid medical leave. The law requires employers to give most workers up to 12 weeks off to care for a family member and up to 26 weeks to care for a family member injured during active military service.
Although there are exceptions, most notably Texas, most states require that employers provide workers’ compensation insurance. This provides benefits to workers injured or made ill on the job, regardless of negligence.
What Rights Do I Have When Applying for a Job?
Even before you have a job, you have rights in the workplace. When seeking a job, you have a right to be considered equally with other prospects and not to be discriminated against based on race, religion, color, sex, or national origin.
Some states and municipalities have extended the federal law to ensure potential employers cannot ask about their current or past salaries, credit history, criminal records, or workers’ compensation claims. An employment lawyer can help you determine if you have experienced discrimination based on state and local laws.
Which Laws Protect Employee Rights?
Some rights are covered under state laws, such as workers’ compensation benefits. Several federal laws protect worker rights across the country:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. This law requires employers to provide reasonably safe workplaces, environments free of known dangers.
- Title VII. Title VII is the law prohibiting discrimination in the hiring process. It includes race, color, sex, religion, and national origin as criteria and applies to businesses with 15 or more workers.
- Americans with Disabilities Act. Congress passed the ADA in 1990, banning workplace discrimination based on disability. If disabled, you have a right to reasonable accommodations to do your job.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act. This law prevents discrimination of workers 40 years old and older and bans preferential treatment of younger workers.
- Family and Medical Leave Act. This is the law that guarantees most workers unpaid leave to cover family emergencies. You must have a certain amount of time with an employer to qualify.
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963. Signed into law by President Kennedy, the Equal Pay Act bans wage disparities based on sex.
What Should I Do if My Employer Has Violated My Rights?
If you believe your rights have been violated in looking for a job or in your current position, talk to an employee rights lawyer. The laws governing workplace rights are numerous and include federal, state, and local jurisdictions.
It can be difficult to understand your rights with so many legal sources, but an experienced lawyer can break it down for you and explain your situation. Talking to a lawyer is the most important thing you can do, but there are other steps to take:
- Collect documentation. You may have to prove that your rights have been violated, so gather any documentation you can find. This may include emails, text messages, memos, phone records, and pay statements.
- Report to your employer. Notify your employer about what happened. Depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to talk to your supervisor. If not, contact the human resources department first. Document all communications.
- File a claim or complaint. If speaking with your employer, or having your lawyer intervene, does not resolve the situation, file a claim with the appropriate government agency. For instance, file a complaint with OSHA if your right to a safe workplace has been violated.
- Consider legal action. How you can proceed with legal actions depends on the rights and laws involved. You may have to file a claim first and then be given permission to sue. In other instances, you may be able to sue for damages without taking that step. Your lawyer will know what to do.
The workplace has not always been fair, and many workers still suffer unequal treatment. Many laws protect your rights on the job, and it is important to address the situation if they have been violated. Talk with an experienced employment law attorney to decide what to do next.