How to Know Your Rights at Work

As an employee, if you have ever faced down the aftermath of a termination or other action that did not necessarily go in your favor, you may have heard your attorney ask you for a copy of your employee handbook. That might be the point where you scratch your head and rack your brain to try to remember the last time you recall having seen one. Employee Handbook? Do you even remember ever reading it, let alone receiving it?

Welcome Aboard and Here is What is Expected of You

For many in the workforce, your first day of orientation tends to be the moment you are introduced to the policies and procedures that govern your behavior while employed. One significant tool used to convey these policies and procedures is the Employee Handbook. While nearly all employees are required to sign off for receipt of this book of rules, which often includes the caveat that signing for receipt is also your agreement that have read it from cover to cover, the handbook may not always be given to the employee.

Employers who want to lay down the clear explanations of what is expected from their employees will issue employee handbooks on an annual basis. Of course, this is after legal has gone through it with a fine-tooth comb. It is important to recognize that this is merely the first level of mandates that attempt to control behavior in the workplace.

Included in that handbook, hopefully, are explanations of some of the laws enacted to protect workers and govern how an employer behaves when it comes to such actions as:

  • Wages and Hours
  • Discrimination
  • Working with Disabilities
  • Unions
  • Health and Safety on the job
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Family and Medical Leave
  • Young Workers

If you were fortunate enough to get a tour of the facility in which you work, you likely got to see the posters required to be displayed on the wall in the employee break room. If you are in California, the biggest one with the tiniest print is typically your Wage Order, as promulgated by the Industrial Welfare Commission.

This is the order that defines your type of industry in which you are employed and covers such things as how the order applies to you, the worker; hours and days of work; minimum wages; reporting time pay; licenses for disabled workers; records; cash shortage and breakage; uniforms and equipment; meals and lodging; meal periods; rest periods; change rooms and resting facilities; seats, temperature; penalties; separability and posting of the order, just to name some of the specifics.

There may also be a poster that encourages employees to know their rights, and this one usually refers the employee to the Human Resources Department. It is wise to keep in mind that for all the support HR touts for the workers, their primary objective is to help prevent the employer from being sued by the employees for their infractions.

The Interplay between State, Federal and Employer Mandates

It is also useful for workers to understand that there are both Federal and State Labor Laws that define protections for employees. One you might recall seeing is the big one that shows what the Federal minimum wage is. However, in 28 states, this is overridden by a higher wage amount under State law.

You can already see that learning how to know your rights at work is not as simple as it would appear. Your best defense of your rights is to become versed in how the laws are written for your protection. For example, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRA) guarantees under certain conditions that employees have the right to discuss working conditions with coworkers as well as the right to complain or protest about the working conditions. This is a protection that trumps the arbitration agreement that employees are typically forced to sign in order to obtain their jobs.

Some Mighty Good Laws to Know

If your required reading modules as part of your onboarding do not cover them, you should become acquainted with the landmark legislation that has been passed over the years for your own protection in the workforce. Some of these you might recognize, such as the:

  • National Labor Relations Act of 1935
  • Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938
  • Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970
  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993

These can be found through the usual methods of research from your local library to the internet to EDD’s One Stop offices to the Labor Board to whatever materials are properly provided on the job. Although, you cannot always trust that this information will be offered or provided by your employer. In the world of your rights, what you don’t know can and sometimes will hurt you. Be your own best advocate when it comes to knowing your rights at work.

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