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Employers, Employees, and Employment Discrimination

Employees' Rights and Responsibilities

Employees have the right to a safe and healthy place of work, fair and timely pay, and fair treatment, as well as a very limited amount of privacy. Employees may also need access to certain resources required to do the jobs assigned and have a right to a discrimination-free workplace. Certain employees have a right to unemployment and workers' compensation benefits.
Employment laws are created to protect employees and define employers' responsibilities and obligations. If employees are part of a union, their rights typically derive from a collective bargaining agreement. Other rights would derive from statute and an employment contract if one exists. The applicability of the laws and specific benefits can vary based on length of employment and other factors.

Federal Employment Statutes and Protections

Federal employment laws help to protect employees who are facing layoffs, the illnesses of family members, and many other challenging situations.
Employees generally have a right to a safe and healthy place to work. Federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforce regulations requiring safety standards for the workplace.

There are federal and state wage and hour laws that require fair pay and overtime pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), established in 1938, governs wages and overtime pay standards for public-sector and private-sector employees, even those who work part time. Also, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), enacted in 1935, protects the rights of employees and employers and encourages collective bargaining. The NLRA is enforced through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent government agency responsible for enforcing labor law. The FLSA and NLRA are key laws that have, through application and interpretation by court decisions, greatly advanced employee rights. These statutes, along with labor union disputes, led to the creation of open shops, where membership in a union was allowed but not required in traditionally unionized industries.

Another statute with employee well-being in mind is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which permits some employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for a set time for issues related to childbirth, adoption, foster care, or a sick family member, including those injured in the military. The FMLA is an important act for both employers and employees. Another job protection act is the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which is designed to protect the jobs of some individuals called up into military reserves or the National Guard.

Employees are entitled to a limited amount of privacy. An employee's activities while using an employer's computer system, for example, are largely unprotected and may be monitored. In most cases an employer cannot monitor private texts or emails that an employee sends from their own phone. However, if the employee sends those same texts or emails from a company phone, then a court would be unlikely to consider them private. Related to privacy, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) generally prevents employers from using polygraph tests, either for pre-employment screening or during the course of employment, with certain exemptions.

Employees are entitled to access the resources they need so they can do the tasks assigned to them. For example, if employees require tools, equipment, or a computer, these things are provided to them so they can complete their work efficiently, unless it is agreed to otherwise by employer and employee. Some arrangements may require the employee to provide tools or uniforms as part of the employment.

Employees have a right to fair treatment and a discrimination-free workplace. For example, federal and state laws typically forbid discrimination in employment based on gender, age, race, nationality, religion, and certain other factors. Whistleblower laws also prohibit retaliation against an employee in certain circumstances. For example, if an employee reports sexual harassment to their employer and the employer's reaction is to fire the employee who reported the harassment, that is an example of retaliation.

Employees should expect performance management, such as performance reviews, so that they can have an idea of how they are performing in their jobs. In addition, clear expectations and a thorough job description will help them understand the nature and duties of their job.

And finally, covered employees—those who pay taxes or insurance for disability or unemployment or work for someone who does—are entitled to unemployment and workers' compensation coverages. Unemployment compensation makes payments to employees if they are laid off. To receive unemployment compensation, employees must qualify per federal regulations by working a sufficient number of hours. In addition, separation must not be due to the termination of employment or because the employee voluntarily quit. Workers' compensation coverage provides payments to employees who are injured on the job. This type of insurance reimburses the employer for expenses paid to an injured employee. In return, employees who claim workers' compensation give up their right to sue the employer for negligence.