I get tons of emails where the writer tells a story and then ends with, “is that even legal?” Most of the time it is legal. There are lots of misunderstandings about what people perceive to be their legal rights as an employee, and what those legal rights actually are. Donna Ballman has an excellent article about what employment rights you actually don’t have.These include:
- I know I have the right to see my file.
- I demand my break right now.
- I exercised my First Amendment rights.
- My boss invaded my privacy.
Donna points out that not everything you see on television or even everything that “sounds right” is actually an employment right. She also reminds us that your boss is free to be a jerk and “right to work” has everything to do with unions and not anything to do with non-compete awards.
Other workplace rights that non-union people think they have and don’t (In most states) include
- The right to take vacation time whenever
- The right to refuse overtime
- The right to an interview
- Protections due to seniority
- Special protections because of race or gender
It can be really embarrassing to pitch a fit and threaten to sue only to find out that your boss and/or company is behaving within the bounds of the law. There are, of course, exceptions to all of these blanket statements. For instance, Donna reminds us that retaliation is perfectly legal in most, but not all cases. She writes:
Oh no. Tell me you didn’t write a long letter complaining about your boss being unprofessional or incompetent. There is no law prohibiting an employer from retaliating against you for reporting or objecting to policy violations, ethical violations, bullying, or the fact that your boss is a jerk. If you do something that puts you in a legally protected category, you may be protected from retaliation. Examples would be objecting to discrimination, making a worker’s comp claim, or taking Family and Medical Leave.
Most of what governs employment law is state law, and the employee handbook. (Yes, that handbook can be binding, so don’t let the intern write it.) Before you claim your rights have been violated, do your research. If you don’t like it, write your state legislator.
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