There are some basic rights all employees have in the workplace. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), many workers feel their rights are being violated by their employers. Here are four laws and concepts that protect employees, and when they apply.
1. The right to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against employees based upon race, gender, religion, nationality, and other categories. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibit discrimination against employees based upon age and disability. Similarly, a number of other federal statutes, virtually all of which were passed after 1964, seek to level the playing field between employers and employees in the workplace.
Employees also have the right to a workplace free of sexual harassment.Title VII prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, including quid pro quo harassment, which includes unwanted sexual advances and requests for sexual favors, and hostile work environment harassment, which which results from unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical sexual conduct of a nature that unreasonably interferes with your ability to do your job, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
2. The right to reasonable accommodation for disabilities.
The ADA makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual with a disability who is qualified, provided he or she can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. Disabilities are very broad, and include physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activity.
3. The right to compensation for work performed.
This applies to all businesses. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that non-exempt employees be compensated whenever they are required or allowed to work. “Compensated” includes regular pay, overtime pay, paid time off accruals, etc. in accordance with federal and applicable state law. The penalties imposed on employers for non-compliance are severe.
4. The right to protection from employer retaliation.
Under the laws enforced by the EEOC, an employer may not retaliate against an employee because he or she engaged in protected activity under these statutes. Protected activity could include filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or local state agency (CHRO in CT, MCAD in MA), making a good faith complaint to an employer about discrimination on the job, or participating in an employment discrimination proceeding such as an investigation or lawsuit.
Joseph E. Fournier is an Attorney and a CPA who has more than twenty years of experience in a variety of business legal matters, including start-ups and company formations, drafting shareholder and operating agreements, contracts, employment law, commercial litigation, tax planning and audit defense, and mergers and acquisitions (M&A). He also handles estate planning matters, such as business succession planning, wills, trusts, and probate.