Workplace Tips: Understanding Your Rights In The Work Place

There are strong laws that guard the worker against all kinds of workplace hazard, discrimination, and unfair practices. Read on to learn more about your rights in the workplace.

The United States, Europe, and most westernized countries have strong laws that guard the worker against all kinds of workplace hazard, discrimination, and unfair practices. In the USA, the basis of these rights as far as occupational hazards are concerned is The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 (OSHA). This comprehensive law encourages employers and employees to implement safety and health programs. In addition, Federal and State laws protect against discrimination and unfair practices. There is a great deal of free information, published by OSHA, and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union that a worker can familiarize himself with in order to protect his/her rights in the workplace, whatever the individual workplace environment is.

It should be recognized that, along with these rights, there are responsibilities. Broadly speaking, if a worker performs his tasks to the best of his ability, and refrains from frivolous complaints, he or she is entitled to safe and secure working conditions, and freedom from retaliation should he or she voice a legitimate complaint.

In addition to the rights stated in OSHA, which are quite specific, there are legal rights that protect the worker from discrimination and unfair treatment such as being passed over for deserved promotion, unfair criticism, racial and religious intolerance, sexual harassment and other unfair practices. However, it is more difficult to prove unfair treatment than to point out defects in physical working conditions.

OSHA - Workers Rights

One of the most important worker rights is the right to be advised by his employer of the OSHA regulations that govern his workplace. The appropriate regulations, requirements, standards and rules should be available and easily accessible at the workplace. In addition, a worker should be able to request, and get from his employer, a description of safety and health hazards that he/she will encounter when employed, together with available safety procedures. If the worker is involved with hazardous materials, that worker has the right to observe, or see the records of the measurements and findings of the company, regarding these materials.

In addition, a worker has the right, either personally, or via an authorized representative, to review the record of occupational injuries at his workplace. If safety violations are discovered, these must be speedily corrected.

In addition to having the right to complain in writing about workplace dangers, anonymously if desired, an employee should not be punished or discriminated against for exercising his rights or for refusing to work in dangerous situations.

There are other rights, such as the right of access to any relevant medical records that the employer holds regarding the worker. Also, specialized workers, such as truckers and air-traffic controllers have special OSHA rights and responsibilities.

Workplace Rights

The National Labor Relations Board administers the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which oversees the relationship between employers, unions and employees, and the rights of workers to join a union or not. The NRLA procedures guide, which can be found on the Internet, covers the filing of charges against an employer or a union, types of charges and how to file, types of charges, how to file a petition, types of petition, and who may file, evidence required to file, and other types of information.

Certain employees are not within NLRB jurisdiction. These are agricultural workers, federal employees, state and local government workers, airline and railroad workers, domestic workers and supervisors. If you belong to any of these groups, you should approach your union or workplace representative to establish your rights. Some employee rights are legal in nature and some are given by companies. Among the legal rights are:

* Minimum wage.

* For certain employees, overtime pay under certain circumstances.

* A safe working environment.

* Freedom from workplace discrimination.

* Freedom from sexual harassment.

* Freedom to speak to a government agency about illegal conduct by the employer.

* Time off to tend to family and medical needs.

Some companies give employees rights to disagree with supervisors or to complain about things that they feel to be unfair. These rights are usually contained in the employee handbook. They include:

* Employee grievance rights and procedures against supervisors.

* Procedures for complaints for sexual harassment.

* Procedures for complaints against discrimination.

* Resolution processes for disagreements between supervisors and employees.

Situations where Employee Rights are not adequately covered by the employer.

There are, of course, some employers who are indifferent at best to the rights of their workers. There are non-union shops, and non-union and contract workers who choose to work in this type of situation, either because they have little choice, or because the job is convenient or well-paid. Generally, workers in these circumstances are resigned to a certain amount of frustration, but there are instances where action can and should be taken. A worker has full recourse to the law, and certain common actions will greatly aid in a speedy resolution of problems.

In case of any kind of discrimination or harassment, the first action should be to talk things over with the offending party. If your fellow employees are causing you problems, you should approach them calmly, with witnesses if possible and explain your concerns. Document the time and place of your discussions, and any results. If your business involves email, you might want to set up a meeting via that medium, and save copies of your messages. Don't be confrontational.

If you continue to have problems, you should contact the next person in the chain of command, again with a witness if possible, and you should document all of your complaints, and the results of your meetings. Document any unfair practices, intimidation, or unfair actions against yourself. In extreme cases, you may have need recourse to the law, and here, documentation, and witnesses will prove very helpful.

Legal Action

Should you decide to sue your employer, supervisor, or fellow worker, you should hire a lawyer who specializes in this sort of legal action. You will probably want to talk to a public access legal assistant, or seek cheap or free advice before committing yourself to an expensive legal battle. You should also be aware that your situation at work, if you are still allowed to work, will almost certainly deteriorate. All in all, legal action should only be considered as a last resort.


A worker in the United States, Europe, and many other countries is usually well covered legally, especially as far as physical working-conditions are concerned. Arm yourself with enough knowledge to protect your rights, use common-sense, enlist the help of your union representative, an OSHA official, an official of the ACLU. With common-sense, and some willingness to compromise, you can almost always ensure a productive and satisfying work environment.

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