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Protecting the Rights of Workers

Many workers in the United States do not realize that they may be entitled to several workplace rights. Depending upon where you live, the kind of job you have, and the size of your employer, the rights of workers where you are employed may include:

  • The right to a safe work environment, free from undue dangers
  • The right to a degree of privacy in your personal matters
  • The right not to be discriminated against on grounds of your age, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, pregnancy, religion, or disability
  • In some states and places, the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of marital status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other characteristics
  • The right to legally specified pay, meaning at least a minimum wage, plus overtime for any hours worked over 40 hours a week or, in some places, over 8 hours a day
  • The right to a workplace environment with no harassment
  • The right to take time from work to tend to your own illness or that of a family member, and
  • The right to take leave following the birth of a child

If you think that any of your workplace rights have been violated, read on and take the following steps.

First, Talk to Your Employer

Many employers have extensive training in the rights of workers. The first thing that you should do once you think that your workplace rights have been violated (such as in cases of discrimination) is talk to your employer about the situation. Under most circumstances, an open and honest conversation can resolve difficulties and avoid the need for any legal action. Almost all companies want to stay within the bounds of the law and will work to avoid legal troubles.

However, there are still occasions when an employer can be truly antagonistic and uncaring about the rights of workers. We will discuss what to do in these situations a little later.

Many people find that talking to their employer can be a difficult and stressful task. To make things easier, here are a few tips that you can keep in mind when tackling this problem:

  • Be informed about your rights. When you talk to your employer about the workplace rights you feel have been violated, it is best to know what those rights are. This will give you confidence going into the meeting. Learn more about state-specific laws on our employment law legal answers page.
  • Keep the facts simple. Treat this meeting with your employer like a business meeting, take notes beforehand, write a brief summary of what violation occurred, and prepare suggestions for how to resolve the situation. Many people find it useful to have a friend or detached reader look over these facts. Find someone that can make suggestions about how best to approach the problem and regarding which facts to include.
  • Remain detached during the meeting. The events leading up to this meeting were most likely very stressful and upsetting. However, bringing those emotions to the meeting won't help you. Try practicing how you will speak with your supervisor before the meeting. Consider doing so with a friend. This could help you get your emotions out the first time, so you don't bring them with you to the meeting. A dispassionate approach to the actual meeting will likely serve you in creating a resolution to whatever problems you are facing.
  • Figure out what to do next. This is one of the most important steps to remember—before you leave your employer's office, decide on the course of action that will come after the meeting. Is the company going to look into the situation? Is your manager going to talk with your co-workers? What is going to change if problems are discovered? Before the meeting ends, make sure there is a plan for what's going to happen next.
  • Follow up. Just like with any important meeting, be sure to follow up after your discussion with your employer. If you and your employer decided that your manager will investigate the problem, make sure that the investigation actually takes place. Try to schedule another meeting to see what progress has been made.

Second, Be Sure to Keep Your Own Records

Even if you have presented your employer with all the documents you think are relevant to the workplace rights issue, be sure to keep copies of everything for your own records. In addition, take notes of important conversations that you have regarding the situation. If you can't take notes during the conversation, jot them down immediately after the meeting and remember to include important details such as the date, time, place, and names of people who took part in the conversation. Also, gather any documents that you think may be relevant, such as e-mails, employee handbooks, letters, company policy statements, and anything else you feel may be useful.

You need to be careful that you only retain documents to which you are allowed access. In the past, some workplace discrimination cases have been compromised because the employee copied confidential documents that they were not authorized to reproduce. This can be the case even when documents may be related to alleged workplace discrimination.

Also, if any of your co-workers saw or heard anything relating to your workplace rights situation, ask them to write down what they saw or heard in signed and dated statements. These could include everything from water-cooler gossip to talk of age discrimination in the company.

Third -- Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines!

If you have already spoken with your employer and still feel that nothing has been done to address your workplace rights-related concerns, it may be time to consider taking legal action. Be mindful of the deadlines you must meet. For example, every state has unique statutes of limitations for various types of legal actions. These statutes specify the amount of time in which a person may bring a lawsuit of any kind, including lawsuits against an employer. These time periods can range from weeks to years. Which time period applies to your case will depend both on your location as well as the specifics of the claim you are considering making against your employer.

Have an Employment Attorney Evaluate Your Claim

If you believe your rights as an employee have been violated, you may want to consult with an employment law attorney about your situation. The lawyer will be able to help you determine the strength of your legal claim, as well as point out any deadlines that may be approaching. Get a handle on your potential claim today with a legal evaluation.

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