Employment rights refer to all employees’ fundamental rights in the workplace. Job applicants and former workers may also have employment rights depending on the circumstances and the issue.

What Are the Rights of Applicants?

Even a job applicant is granted certain rights by the employer. For instance, job applicants have the right to be free from discrimination based on race, age, gender, or national origin. Moreover, an employer may not check a prospective employee’s credit unless the employer notifies the employee and receives permission. An employer also cannot ask specific family-related questions during the hiring process.

What Is Considered Employment Discrimination?

Employment discrimination may occur when an employee (or potential employee) is treated less favorably than other similar employees solely because of specific characteristics. These characteristics or backgrounds are protected by law and may include their age, sex, gender, religion, disability, or other classifications.

Employment discrimination can also occur when one group of workers is treated better than another based on protected classes or categories defined by miscellaneous laws. An illustration of this is where one group of workers obtains benefits denied to others based on their sex.

Such discrimination generally happens when a person is already hired. However, it can also happen when a person is still seeking employment (such as when they aren’t hired because they are of a particular religion).

What Are Some of the Laws Against Employment Discrimination?

Various state and federal laws make it illegal to discriminate against an employee. These regulations have impacted work environments throughout U.S. history, and each has its own role in defining employment discrimination.

Some of the more influential laws involving employment discrimination include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This is a federal anti-discrimination act that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers based on sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. It applies to both private employers as well as those in local, state, and federal governments;
  • The Equal Pay Act (EPA): The EPA protects employers against gender discrimination. In particular, it provides that workers of different genders should be paid equally if they are doing equal work;
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): The ADEA protects from discrimination against employees who are 40 years and older. It addresses specific circumstances, such as being forced to retire based on age;
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): As with other anti-discrimination regulations, this outlaws discrimination against a person based on their disability status. It also touches on different aspects of employment, such as providing reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities;
  • The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA): The IRCA sets various requirements for employers concerning employees’ immigration status. For example, it addresses when and how an employer should confirm the employment eligibility of workers; and
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA is a federal law that governs how employees can take unpaid medical leave. Among other provisions, it protects against being fired while on a legitimate or approved medical leave.

What Are the Rights of Employees?

Once hired, there are certain fundamental rights that all workers have in the workplace. For instance, all workers have the right to privacy. The right to privacy applies to an employee’s personal possessions. Personal possessions may include purses, wallets, briefcases, individual storage lockers, and private mail. Nevertheless, workers will probably not have a right to privacy on the company’s computer.

These are some of the other significant rights that employees have:

  • The right to fair wages and compensation for work performed.
  • The right to be free from any discrimination or harassment.
  • The right to a workplace that is safe and free from hazardous conditions, toxic substances, or any other potential dangers.
  • The right to be free from retaliation for filing a claim or complaint against a particular employer.

What Is “Privacy in the Workplace”?

In comparison to an individual’s private life, a person’s legal right to privacy in the workplace is usually much less. The reasonable expectation of privacy relates to the United States Constitution and the privacy protections afforded in the Fourth Amendment.

In the workplace, the area technically belongs to the employer. As such, desks and offices may be subject to search. However, a locked desk drawer or a confidential discussion may receive more privacy protections than spaces deemed more unrestricted. Work computers, email accounts, and phone systems may also be monitored.

An employee’s personal belongings, such as a cell phone, bag, or purse, typically have a higher expectation of privacy. If something was stolen or the employee works in a diplomatic or high-risk safety position, the employer may search the worker’s belongings.

If a search is performed for no sound reason, the employer’s actions may be unlawful. If you are involved in a workplace investigation, review your employee handbook on how investigations are conducted.

Government employees have different due process rights than those in the private sector. If the policy states you have a right to representation, it is usually wise to use it. It is necessary to remember that human resources and company lawyers are in place to cover the business, not you.

What Are Protected Activities in Employment Law?

As previously noted, employees are protected by law for reporting activities that occur in the workplace, including:

It is essential to mention that the previous list does not include every type of protected activity an employee may report. Those listed above are the major activities discussed and protected by federal law. There may also be additional protected activities found in state employment regulations and based upon the circumstances of each case.

When Is Retaliation Unlawful?

The majority of workers in the United States are considered at-will employees. This means that their position will last for an unspecified amount of time as opposed to independent contractors. An employer can fire an at-will employee with or without cause.

The term without cause means that an employee may be terminated for any reason or no reason, so long as the reason is not forbidden or illegal. Because retaliatory discharge is an unlawful form of termination, it is illegal regardless of whether the person is an at-will employee or an independent contractor.

Additionally, most state and federal laws forbid an employer from terminating an employee who files a complaint about harassment or discrimination. These protections extend to any place where an employee makes their complaint, including at:

  • The company’s Human Resources department;
  • A state employment agency; or
  • A federal government office.

For example, suppose an employee has a complaint regarding discriminatory practices. In that case, they will be required to file a report with a state or federal office, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The agency will then review the worker’s complaint and investigate the employer’s conduct. In some circumstances, this will require the full cooperation of all employees within the company.

What Are the Federal Laws on Employee Rights?

Many federal laws deal with employee rights in the workplace. Here are two significant examples:

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act: This law stops employers from favoring younger workers at the expense of older workers. It applies to 40 years of age and older workers and workplaces that have 20 or more employees. Nevertheless, this law does not prevent employers from favoring more senior employees over younger employees.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination against an individual with a qualified disability. According to the ADA, a disability is any physical or mental impairment that seriously alters one or more life activities.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

Workers have many rights that are protected by state and federal laws. If you feel that your employer violated your rights, it may be a good idea to talk to an experienced workplace lawyer to begin the process of resolving your workplace issue.