Published On: Thu, Aug 18th, 2016

What Rights Do You Have As An Employee And How Do You Protect Them?

We all need to work and we need to make sure that we can work in a fair environment. For some employees, this is harder than it might originally seem. While millions of people work happily in their jobs, there are others who are being taken advantage of. There are those who are left intimidated, harassed, dismissed unfairly and unprotected. It can seem to them that all the power rests in the hands of the employer. When that employer uses that power unfairly, it can easily seem a cause for despair. It’s not just the employer who can create a truly hostile work environment. Other employees can be just as big a part of the problem. But employees do have rights and protections. Here’s what the employee in trouble needs to consider.

occupational safety and health

Workplace safety

First, we have to look at one of the most important rights of any worker. Their right to a safe working environment. There are, of course, some workplaces that are going to naturally be less safe than others. Construction sites and oil rigs immediately come to mind. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to safety when working in such places. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration can help you address some of the most common hazards in your workplace. You can work with your employer in advance to avoid these risks. Just know the law is in your favor if your employer refuses or fails to act on those hazards. Consult with legal advice or whistleblower protection programs about what steps you can take next.

Do you have a right to insurance?

Bodily health is important to being able to continue work. Previously, employees were caught in a Catch-22 situation where medical issues needed to be resolved so they could back to work. At the same time, they needed to work to be able to pay for those medical issues. Nowadays, however, employers have more pressure to help provide assistance in those cases. But not all of them. Employers with over 50 full-time employees must provide health insurance to them or suffer a tax penalty. However, it’s important to be aware that you don’t necessarily have a right to health insurance. Some employers don’t have the necessary amount of employees to have to pay out. Others may opt to take the tax penalty instead.

Benefits you are entitled to

You might not necessarily be entitled to health insurance, but there are other benefits that you certainly are entitled to. Social Security tax, for one. Depending on your state, you may be entitled to unemployment insurance, that provides benefits to you in the case that you lose your job. Look up the law for your state if you suffer any anxiety about not being provided for during unemployment.  Looking back to workplace safety, you are also fully entitled to Worker’s Compensation. If you are injured at work, you are entitled to wage replacement benefits, medical treatment and perhaps more. It pays to be aware of the benefits you are entitled to and to spot when they are being withheld.

The obfuscation of the gender wage gap

It’s a fact that is appearing in a lot of headlines, today. It’s now a known fact that women make 79% of what a man makes in the same job. But many will argue that these figures don’t add up on a case-to-case basis, that women make the same pay for the same work.  The truth is that the problem goes deeper than a bold-faced lesser payment of women. Clear cases of women getting paid less than men for work are textbook examples of workplace discrimination and can be acted on legally. In the meantime, it has been suggested that widespread cultural change can help address this issue. Including teaching young working women to be more confident in negotiation. Sexism does exist in a lot of corporate settings, but most of the time, you have to be more watchful to identify it. Rarely do you see the case where an employer is flat-out paying women less than men.

Discrimination

As we have discussed, being paid less for the same work as a woman is a clear cut sign of discrimination. But there are other kinds of discrimination to be aware of, too. Discrimination that you can act on if you encounter it. Discrimination law protects employees from suffering targeted negative treatment because of personal attributes. Race, age, disability, religion, gender or national origin. It can also take a lot of forms. For example, unfair dismissal or a refusal to hire. Similarly, it can take shape in ways that aren’t easy to spot. These kind of methods usually also fall under the kind of workplace harassment that employees might suffer. We’ll be looking at how to spot harassment in the next point.

Identifying harassment

Sometimes, like discrimination, harassment can be very easy to spot. If someone is being insulted or bullied at work, you can easily identify that. Similarly, any kind of sexual contact in a work environment is clear harassment. But it’s not always as easy to spot. Employers and employees alike have to be ready to notice repeated inappropriate behavior. Negative comments that go beyond professional conduct, even if the targeted employee isn’t there. Creating a hostile work environment by making inappropriate comments. Racial slang, words or phrase, regardless of how culturally acceptable they may seem outside work. There are a lot of different ways that a colleague, or you, may be harassed. Don’t be afraid to record and address the issue when it happens. Harassers might not even realize how hurtful they are being at times, but their target certainly will.

Working with disability

Someone with disability might be subject to a kind of discrimination that others might not readily identify. That is the discrimination of inaccessibility. Workplaces have to provide accessibility features to help their employees with disability do their job. Employees are required to follow the Americans with Disability Act amongst others. But you may also find that attitudes in work can provide as much a barrier to workers with disability as physical accessibility. For example, employees with disability are less likely to be in line for a promotion than those without disability. Open displays of pity or backlash against workers with disability are common in workplaces. Work with those in your workplace to try to foster better understanding and treatment. If you can’t reach that, you may need to take it to another level.

Keeping it internal

When a dispute is raised at work, there are a lot of different routes you can take to tackling it. One of the first pieces of advice that many will give you is to address it internally. To submit a complaint or attend a meeting with the HR team. In many cases, that can indeed resolve the issue. Yet some employees will find the HR department might just be more inclined to protect the company from liability than to help the employees. In those cases, it can still be a good idea to use internal channels. This gives you the evidence that you have tried all channels to address your problem before moving on to the sometimes necessary legal steps.

The danger of workplace intimidation

Sometimes, within HR proceedings or pressing on to legal action, you may be made to fear the consequences of your actions. Whether overt or subversive, it is not uncommon for intimidation to be a part of an employer’s’ offences. This is called ‘retaliation.’ If you read from Hutchison & Stoy, you can see that it is also a crime. If an employer attempts to lash back at you for creating difficulty, that can just be another offence that you can then seek justice for. So look out for the following signs if you’re pursuing a grievance. Look for things like dismissal, demotion, unfair performance reviews and open hostility. If you can prove that this is taking place, then you are in a position to argue for the presence of retaliation.

Protection on hand

You should always be ready and able to provide evidence of retaliation. All the same, there are other forms of protection for those reporting illegal practices within the workplace. For one, you should attempt to record evidence of as much wrongdoing as possible. Have a legal team on your side who can help you find better ways to collect that kind of evidence. Then there are other organizations that can protect those reporting misconduct. For example, Whistleblower Protection Programs. You have rights as well as a right to protect them. If employers or any other colleagues are attempting to take those rights from you, you should be prepared to get the help you need to defend them.

We hope this article leaves you more informed as to the dangers you can face in the workplace and what you can do about it. You have to be prepared to stand up for your rights. The right help on hand can make sure you get your just resolution.