An Employer’s Guide to Employee Rights

Whether you run a small business or a multinational corporation, it’s your job as an employer to ensure your employees’ wellbeing. From workplace safety to paternity leave, you need to stay up to date with all employee rights legal requirements and best practices for management.

If you’re a first-time business owner or just got promoted to a senior role at an established company, take the time to study all the major areas of employee rights protections carefully. While this list isn’t exhaustive, it will provide a foundation for further research.

Nondiscrimination and Anti-Harassment Laws

The U.S. federal government sets the standards for protection against discrimination and other prohibited practices, which are enforced by the equal employment opportunity commission (EEOC) under the Federal Trade Commission. 

Landmark nondiscrimination legislation includes the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Americans With Disabilities Act, Equal Pay Act, Immigration Reform and Control Act, Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Section 1981), and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The underlying principle of nondiscrimination was outlined in the 1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: no employer can discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, or political affiliation.

This same act prohibits sexual harassment. Employers must take action to prevent harassment and must have a system for employees to file complaints without retaliation.

Ensuring Employee Safety and Compensation for Injury

Employers are also responsible for maintaining a safe work environment. They must:

  • Offer a workplace that complies with standards and is free from serious hazards
  • Ensure your employees have access to safe and properly maintained tools and equipment
  • Use color codes, labels, posters, and signs to warn employees of potential dangers
  • Provide safety training to employees in a language, using the vocabulary they understand
  • Establish operating procedures and convey them to the employees so that they follow safety and health requirements

For more information, you can read the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) list of employer responsibilities.

Additionally, business owners in almost every U.S. state legally have to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their employees.

If a workplace injury occurs, the injured employee must seek medical treatment and file a claim for workers compensation. The insurance provider will determine a compensation package to cover their medical bills and a percentage of lost wages.

Protection from Wrongful Termination

Though employers have the right to maintain discretion over hiring and firing employees, they need to understand the tenets of wrongful termination. Some of the most common forms of wrongful termination include:

  • Discriminatory Firing– When an employer fires an employee based on discriminatory grounds instead of their performance.
  • Retaliation–  When an employer fires an employee after they engage in a protected activity, such as reporting harassment or discrimination or taking a permitted medical leave.

Paid Leave

Some of the rules and regulations regarding wages and paid leave vary by state, and these laws have undergone dramatic changes in recent years. For that reason, it’s essential that business owners keep up to date on state legislation. While not all states require employers to offer paid leave, many choose to voluntarily.

Common circumstances that employers off paid leave for include:

  • Caring for a newborn child (provisions typically differ between women and men)
  • The placement with the employee of a son or daughter for foster care or adoption
  • Suffering from serious health conditions that require medical leave
  • Caring for an immediate family member with serious health conditions

The Right to Unionize

According to the ACLU, “The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is the federal statute that grants most private-sector employees the right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining…Public employees’ right to engage in collective bargaining can be taken away by their state governments; the collective bargaining rights of private-sector employees lies in Congress’s hands.”

As an employer, you cannot take any action to interfere with an employee exercising their right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. Furthermore, you must bargain with any union formed by your employees in “good faith.” You can learn more about the employer/union relationship here.

Beyond Rules and Regulations

With an understanding of federal and state laws that dictate employee rights, you can create a work atmosphere that not only protects employees but creates a strong relationship between workers and management. Beyond following legal requirements, employers can take extra steps to show employees their appreciation for their hard work by providing additional perks, services, and resources.