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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 fair 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, or a family member's, illness, and
  • The right to take leave following the birth of a child

If you think that any of your workplace rights have been violated, follow 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 discrimination) is to 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 go to talk to your employer about the workplace rights you feel have been violated, it is best to know what those rights are exactly. 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 have a suggestion for how to resolve the situation. Many people find it useful to have a friend or a detached reader look over these facts and make suggestions about how best to approach the problem and which facts to include.
  • Remain detached during the meeting. Yes, the events leading up to this meeting were most likely very stressful and upsetting, but bringing those emotions to the meeting won't help your cause. If you can practice your presentation before hand, perhaps with a friend, this will help you get your emotions out the first time so you don't bring them with you to the meeting.
  • 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 is to happen. 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 would investigate the problem, make sure that the investigation occurred. 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 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 others.

However, you need to be careful that you only retain documents that you have valid access to. There have been cases of workplace discrimination that have been compromised in the past because a person copied documents that were confidential, even though they related to the discrimination claim.

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

Third -- Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines!

When you have taken the above measures in talking openly with your employer and you still feel that nothing has been done to address your workplace rights, it may be time to consider taking legal action. The rights of workers are a very serious matter and the law may come down hard on employers who violate them, but there are still deadlines you must meet. The law in every state sets a statute of limitation for various types of legal actions which gives the amount of time in which a person has to bring a lawsuit or else give up the claim. These time periods can range from weeks to years, and which time period applies to your case in will depend both on your location as well as the rights that were violated and to what degree.

Have an Employment Attorney Evaluate Your Labor 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.

From FindLaw  Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

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