When you think of employee laws, you may think of them as constraints on workers. This may be true, but most labor laws are in place to protect workers from being taken advantage of by their employers. Here are some of your rights as an employee that you can always insist upon:
- The Right to Work Harassment-Free
Employment laws prohibit hiring discrimination or workplace harassment based on race, sex, religion, national origin, physical disability or age. In some places, there may be protection for additional categories such as sexual orientation, pregnancy or domestic violence victim status.
The first step you should always take is to report your experiences to your supervisor so that your employer can initiate an internal investigation. In a best-case situation, your employer will be able to put a stop to the harassment and immediately resolve the problem. If this doesn’t occur, your employer isn’t willing to listen to your claims or if your employer is the one harassing you, you may need to turn to an employment lawyer.
- The Right to Work Safely
Your employer is responsible for maintaining a safe working environment. If you get hurt on the job, you may be eligible for workman’s comp even if your employer has adhered to all safety regulations (since worker’s compensation is a no-fault system). But if you get hurt as a result of your employer’s negligence, you may need to look at a personal injury claim instead.
Your employer’s responsibilities include employee laws implemented by the government to maintain safe working conditions. For example, hours of service and truck driver log requirements exist to keep commercial drivers and everybody else on the road safe, and a company cannot ask their drivers to work outside of federally mandated hours or tamper with their logs (in fact, a large asphalt company was recently fined nearly $1 million for doing precisely that).
- The Right to Report Problems
Most employment in the United States is “at will,” meaning that an employer can fire you without a reason. There are certain reasons however, that you can’t be fired. As discussed above, there are certain protected classes—race, sex, religion and so forth—and you cannot be fired for belonging to those groups.
But it’s also illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for reporting problems such as the ones discussed above. If you experience or witness harassment, report safety breaches or file a claim for workman’s comp, your employer firing you in order to keep those problems quiet is against the law and constitutes wrongful dismissal. If you’re having trouble proving that your firing (or demotion, etc.) was in retaliation for your actions, wrongful termination lawyers will be able to help. An employer also may not fire you for refusing to break any employment laws, including those regulating break time and similar worker protections. You may think that if you’re not willing to work through your lunchbreak even when you’re clocked out, your employer will simply find someone who is. But that’s precisely why these employment laws exist.
Can you think of other employee laws are workers unaware of? Share in the comments.