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Treating employees with respect and fairness is essential for two reasons. First, it establishes a company's reputation for fairness and impartiality which is carefully scrutinized by individuals both within and outside the organization, and is a vital factor in keeping and attracting desirable employees. The second, but equally important reason is that identifying and safeguarding employee rights reduces the possibility that the company becomes entangled in charges of discrimination, lengthy litigation, and costly settlements. Employee rights fall into three categories: the right to job security, the right to fair treatment by the employer, and the right to fair treatment in the workplace.

Right to Job Security

This right protects the employee from "termination at will" or just discharging an individual for virtually any reason. Legislation including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and more recent anti-discrimination laws is being cited in courts around the country in disputes about employee rights.

Court rulings have determined that an employee cannot be fired for:

  • Whistle-blowing regarding employer policies or violations of laws; Complaints or testimony regarding violations of employee rights; Lawful union activities;
  • Filing claims for workers' compensation;
  • Filing charges of unfair labor practices;
  • Reporting OSHA violations;
  • Garnishment for indebtedness.

Justifiable terminations should be spelled out in an employee handbook or personnel manual. Some of these reasons include:

  • Incompetence or failure to respond to training;
  • Gross insubordination;
  • Repeated unexcused absences or lateness;
  • Sexual harassment;
  • Verbal abuse;
  • Physical violence;
  • Falsification of records;
  • Theft;
  • Intoxication on the job.

Right to Fair Treatment by Employer

Fair treatment of employees includes honoring their rights to privacy and providing feedback regarding their performance in order to enable them to successfully meet job requirements. Employee privacy issues include:

  • The right to refuse a polygraph or drug test as a condition for employment;
  • The right to access employment records. Although federal agencies and only six states have laws regarding this right, over 50 percent of major companies now have written guidelines for allowing employees access personnel files; The right to prohibit release of information regarding the employee to other organizations without the employee's consent.
  • Fair treatment of the employee is guaranteed by: The right to specific information regarding company expectations and prohibitions as stated in an employee manual;
  • The right to due process procedures including consistent rules and protocol for grievances;
  • The right to a progressive system of discipline including an oral warning, a written warning, suspension, transfer or demotion' and, as a last resort, discharge.

Right to Fair Treatment Within the Workplace

Executives often forget that their employees are entitled to an environment in which they are treated with fairness and respect by their fellow workers. Among these workplace rights are:

  • The right to equal and impartial treatment by other employees regardless of race, sex, age, national origin, disability, religion,
  • The right to be free from sexual harassment;
  • The right to information about a plant or office closing. The Plant Closing Act of 1988 requires employers to provide affected employees with 60 days' notification of a plant closing;
  • The right to knowledge about workplace hazards, ranging from warnings about chemicals used in the company to necessary safety precautions and simple guidelines for avoiding accidents.

Federal legislation protects employee rights, and it is the responsibility of the employer to be informed regarding the interpretation of these laws. Violations of workplace rights make the employer liable to charges of discriminatory practices.