What are Your Rights When You Are an Employee?
In the days of Charles Dickens, employees had to rely on the generosity of their employers for any benefits and advantages. During the industrial revolution period, employment was regarded as one step removed from slavery.
The Evolution of Employee Rights under Law:
The development of employee rights codes began in the labor movement. In 1919, the International Labour Organization (ILO) was formed as part of the League of Nations. The ILO was later incorporated into the United Nations and the UN backed workers’ rights in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. This charter declares that
- Everyone has the right to work with free choice of employment with favorable conditions of work and protection against unemployment.
- Everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
- Everyone has the right to just and favorable remuneration.
- Everyone has the right to form and join trade unions.
- Everyone has the right to right rest and leisure, reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
The ILO and other groups have sought to produce international labor standards to create legal rights for workers across the world. In the United States, the gradual push toward legal force for fair labor standards has resulted in codification of some labor standards into civil law. Now, when employers violate certain civil laws regarding labor standards, they are vulnerable to civil suits.
Modern Codes of Employee Rights:
Employees have well earned rights guaranteed by civil law. There are five basic categories of rights meant to apply to employees (as well as job applicants and former employees under certain conditions). In most states, employees assume:
- The right to privacy.
- The right to fair compensation.
- The right to freedom from discrimination.
- The right to a safe workplace.
- The right to be free to file claims against an employer without retaliation.
Privacy Rights: The right to privacy in the workplace applies to employees’ personal possessions, including handbags, briefcases, storage lockers that are accessible only to the employee, and private mail addressed only to the employee. Employees may have the right to privacy in their telephone conversations and voicemail messages under certain conditions. Employee rights to privacy in email messages and internet usage is limited.
Employees always have to be careful about their right to privacy in the workplace. They have to make careful distinctions between their own personal affairs and the affairs of the employer they are serving. Communications made in the interest or about the affairs of employers will not be private and employers will have the right to monitor the communications that relate to their affairs, for example emails on company computers and internet usage while performing organizational duties on the employer’s behalf.
Fair Compensation Rights: Recognized in the United States Constitution as Annotation 15 of the Fifth Amendment, the recognition of fair compensation refers primarily to the principle that landowners are protected against seizure of their land and property by the government. Fair compensation for labor has been gained, primarily, not through law but through market forces and labor organization.
Freedom from Discrimination: Anti-discrimination law in the United States is part of the 20th century battle for equal opportunity. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Americans with Disabilities Act established prohibition against discrimination in hiring and housing on the basis of race, color, gender, ethnic origin, age and disability. The right of freedom from discrimination is under continued testing in the courts.
Right to Freedom From Retaliation: The so-called “whistle-blower” act was encoded into federal law in 1989. It was enacted to protect federal employees who reported cases of misconduct. There are different whistleblower laws that protect freedom of speech for limited classes of workers and contractors under various circumstances. Where the protections apply, whistleblowers have the right to file complaints about evidence of violations of laws or regulations that affect public health or safety.
Workers rights protections in the United States fall short of the early international ideals, but represent part of a continuous legal evolution.