When you work for someone else, it can feel like you have no employee rights. However, you’ll be happy to know that’s not the case. There are plenty of rights you have as an employee. It’s important for you to become familiar with these rights to protect yourself and enjoy a healthy, happy tenure with your employer. The Cheat Sheet reached out to experts to learn more about the rules an employer must follow. Here are seven important rights you have when working for someone else.
1. Fair and timely compensation
Did the paycheck fairy skip your cubicle? Are you still waiting for your paycheck days or weeks after you were supposed to be paid? Monrae English, an employment attorney and partner at Wild Carter & Tipton Law, told The Cheat Sheet an employer is supposed to pay you fairly and on time. Laws governing pay periods are different depending on your state of residence, but all states (except for Alabama and South Carolina) require employers to make weekly, biweekly, semimonthly, or monthly payments. Also, most states are required to make their employees aware of payday requirements.
Next: Freedom from discrimination and harassment
2. Freedom from workplace discrimination and harassment
You have the right to work at a job where you don’t face discrimination and harassment. An employer should not hold your race, religion, health status, or gender against you. “An employee can’t be fired, not promoted, harassed, or suffer other adverse employment actions based on the employee’s race, religion, creed, gender, or national origin (under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act), or based on age (under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act), or disability-based discrimination (the ADA),” said Eric M. Sarver, an attorney and founding member of The Law Offices of Eric M. Sarver.
In addition, Sarver said most states have similar laws that protect employees from discrimination. State and city laws often include broader protections, such as protection from discrimination based on your sexual orientation and other rights or accommodations for disabilities.
Sarver also said employees have the right to receive certain accommodations, such as for religious reasons or for a chronic medical condition. There are several types of accommodations that can be requested. For example, an accommodation could be a physical change, such as building a ramp to make an office wheelchair accessible. An accommodation could also be a policy enhancement, such as adjusting work schedules to allow employees who are chronically ill to attend medical appointments and complete their work at alternate times. Other accommodations, according to the United States Department of Labor, include accessible technologies and communications.
4. Rights regarding employer-sponsored benefit plans
If you participate in an employer-sponsored plan, you also have rights, said attorney Scott Perlmuter of law firm Tittle & Perlmuter. If you participate in a retirement plan, for example, your employer should be depositing your contributions into your retirement account. That money should never go into their pockets. Believe it or not, some dishonest companies collect retirement contributions from their employees, and it never makes it to their accounts. Instead, it goes back to the company. This is why it’s so important for you to check your retirement account statements closely. If you see signs of retirement account theft, you can call the Department of Labor and request an investigation.
Next: Time off
5. Time off work
Depending on how many employees your company has, you are entitled to job-protected leave (a federal law known as the Family and Medical Leave Act) for situations, such as illness, adoption, or the birth of a baby. A company that employs 50 or more people within a 75-mile radius of each other for 20 or more weeks is covered under the act. Those who work as independent contractors are not counted toward the total. You must have worked for the company for at least 12 months (but the months don’t have to be consecutive).
6. A safe work environment
You deserve to work in an environment where you feel safe. You should not face dangerous conditions, toxic substances, or other safety hazards. It’s difficult to focus on work when you’re concerned about getting hurt. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, some things that make a workplace unsafe include any environment where you are doing dangerous work without being provided the appropriate safety gear; you’re being exposed to toxic chemicals; or you’re working with poorly maintained equipment, tools, or machines. Safety standards vary depending on the type of work you do. If you work in construction, for example, there are certain dangers you might not be able to avoid.
Although it might not feel like it at times, you do have some privacy rights in the workplace. You don’t have to feel obligated to share personal information, such as your family plans or health status, said Jennifer Magas, vice president of Magas Media Consultants and clinical associate professor at Pace University.
Your privacy rights begin even before you get the job. Magas told The Cheat Sheet that hiring managers cannot ask personal questions, such as your marital status or age. “They are basically not allowed to ask anything that could be later used to argue that a hiring decision was made based on bias or prejudice,” Magas said.
Next: What if your employer violates your rights?
What should you do if your employer violates your rights? Your first step should be to reach out to your human resources representative. He or she might be able to quickly resolve the issue. Not all employers are aware of certain laws, so it could be a simple misunderstanding on their part. “Most employers don’t intend to violate labor laws, and most courts will ask the employee whether he or she brought the issue to the employer’s attention,” said Laura Handrick, a former HR director and current human resources staff writer at Fit Small Business.
If that doesn’t work, it’s time to seek help from an attorney. Lawyers often provide a free initial consultation. “Many lawyers handle employment disputes on a contingency fee basis, meaning that you pay no attorneys’ fee unless a financial recovery is made,” Perlmutter said.
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