5 Rights of Every Employee

“… the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)] stated that it received 99,947 discrimination charges against private sector employers in FY 2011… Charges alleging retaliation under all of the statutes the EEOC enforces accounted for the highest overall percentage of private sector complaints received (37.4%), followed closely by race discrimination complaints (35.4%). Claims of religious discrimination, while not as numerous as retaliation and race discrimination claims, increased by a little over 9%, which was the highest percentage of increase of any of the charge categories.” (EEOC Reports Record Number of Discrimination Charges by Ford & Harrison LLP)

All employees have some basic rights in the workplace. And if statistics recently released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are any indication, an increasing number of workers feel those rights are being violated by their employers.

So what can business owners and managers do to stem the tide? A good first step is knowing the laws that protect their employees, and when they apply:

1. The right to a workplace free of discrimination:

[Applies to businesses with 15 or more employees:] “Title VII … prohibits discrimination against employees based upon race, gender, religion, nationality, and other categories. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination against employees based upon age and disability. Similarly, a number of other federal statutes, virtually all of which were passed after 1964, seek to ‘level the playing field’ in the workplace.” (Employment Discrimination and Its Evolving Impact on an Employer’s Relationship with Independent Contractors by Fox Rothschild)

2. The right to a workplace free of sexual harassment:

[Applies to businesses with 15 or more employees:] “Title VII prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Generally, there are two types of sexual harassment that are illegal under Title VII: ‘Quid Pro Quo’ harassment, [which] includes ‘unwanted sexual advances, request for sexual favors,’ [and] … ‘Hostile Work Environment’ harassment, [which] includes any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical sexual conduct of a nature that unreasonably interferes with your ability to do your job, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” (Sexual Harassment by Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck)

3. The right to reasonable accommodation for disabilities:

[Applies to businesses with 15 or more employees:] “The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual with a disability who is qualified, provided he or she can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. ‘Disabilities’ include (1) physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activity; (2) a record of such impairment; or (3) being regarded as having such impairment.” (EEOC ADAAA Regulations Significantly Expand ADA Coverage, Impacting All Employers by Mintz Levin)

4. The right to compensation for work performed:

[Applies to all businesses:] “The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that non-exempt employees be compensated whenever they are required or ‘suffered’ to work. ‘Suffered,’ for those of you who don’t read the King James Version of the Holy Bible, or Stephen King, means ‘allowed.’” (Off-Clock Work: “Flintstone” Laws In A “Buck Rogers” World by Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP)

5. The right to protection from employer retaliation:

[Applies to businesses with 15 or more employees:] “Under the laws enforced by the EEOC … an employer may not retaliate against an employee because he or she engaged in protected activity under these statutes. Protected activity could include filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, making a good faith complaint to an employer about discrimination on the job, or participating in an employment discrimination proceeding (such as an investigation or lawsuit).” (EEOC Receives Record Number of Charges of Discrimination for the Second Year in a Row by Poyner Spruill LLP)

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