Your basic rights as an employee

All rights and obligations existing within an employer-employee relationship are covered by employment law. This includes not only current employees but job applicants and former employees as well.

Federal labor law in the US safeguards certain employee rights such as the right to minimum wage, protection of an employee’s genetic and medical information, and violations due to types of harassment and discrimination.

Workers who are informed about their rights as an employee are often in a better position to protect these rights. This article takes a closer look at some of the basic employee rights and legal protections. Keep in mind that some of the items below may not apply to all workplaces, so it is best to consult an employment attorney in San Diego in case you need more detailed info.

State and local laws

State and local laws that cover employment issues provide worker rights extending beyond federal protections. In some states, for example, employers are prohibited from making hiring decisions based on background or credit checks. In some cities, there are laws in place which make it illegal to discriminate against applicants based on their appearance.

Gathering information about the laws and ordinances in the state and city where you plan to seek employment is always a smart move. Being aware of laws covering important factors such as discrimination, hiring criteria, and what constitutes a hostile work environment will be a huge help during your job search.

Discrimination and equal pay

Any actions performed by employers that affect an employee’s ability to seek and hold gainful employment is considered employment discrimination. This also includes unfair disciplinary measures, denying training, and any actions that affect an employee’s ability to advance or earn a promotion within their workplace. 

Employees who believe they are victims of employment discrimination will need to show that they were subject to one or more of the actions mentioned above and that the reason behind the action falls under one of the protected classes:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Gender
  • National Origin
  • Disability
  • Religion

Rights involving background checks

Employers who hire a third-party reporting agency to perform background checks are required to follow regulations established in the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, in addition to any existing state or municipal laws providing protections for employees.

These regulations require employers to do the following:

  • Provide written notification to applicants expressing their intention to conduct a background check. 

  • The applicant must agree in writing to undergo the background check. 

  • Upon completion of the background check, employers who take adverse action against an employee (such as refusal to hire them or offer a lower salary) must provide the employee with a pre-adverse action notice.

  • The pre-adverse notice must include a copy of the consumer report used to make the decision and a Summary of Your Rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which is an official document prepared by the Federal Trade Commission.

Rights against harassment

Harassment is a very common issue in many workplaces. You should keep in mind, however, that there’s only limited protection against workplace harassment provided by federal law.

An action will only be considered a violation of federal law if it results in a hostile work environment, or its nature involves any one of the protected classes that fall under ant-discrimination laws. State and local laws may also provide additional forms of protection against workplace harassment and bullying. 

Privacy and personal property rights

Privacy rights are provided to employees in most states. Depending on local laws, an employer may be prohibited from opening and inspecting items that are considered private property, such as your bag.

Some state laws, however, can be a little complicated when it comes to other forms of privacy, such as phone calls or voicemail. In addition, web browsing history, email usage, and other actions occurring within your employer’s networks are not generally protected by state privacy laws. 

Whistleblower rights

Workers who encounter violations of laws, regulations and ethics in their place of employment are protected by federal and state governments. On a federal level, employers cannot take any unfavorable action against an employee, such as demoting them, limiting their hours, dismissing them, or showing any form of harassment following the employee’s whistleblower claim. Additional laws and ordinances offering other forms of protection are also provided by state municipalities.

If you believe there are any violations of your rights as an employee, these issues should be discussed with your employer. However, in situations where discrimination or harassment still occurs following discussion, or your rights continue to be violated, you may want to consider hiring an attorney. 

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