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What Are My Rights As An Employee

That depends!

Generally speaking, most employee think that they have more employment rights than they do.  That’s not to say that there aren’t a huge number of laws that protect employees from unfair treatment in the workplace.  Instead, it’s meant to highlight the fact that the majority of workplace complaints are mostly gripes—not facts on which to rest a legal claim.

Having said that, there are three main grounds on which an employee can base a claim:

Statutory Claim

This is a fancy way of saying that you are protected by a law passed by a legislative body (like the U.S. Congress).  The most notable federal employment law statute is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (there are many others that are highlighted the main employee rights section).  Most States have similar statutes, protecting a wide-range of employees in different context.  Check your State law section for a discussion of these laws.

Common Law Claim

Unlike statutory claims, there are not many workplace rights created by common law.  In most states, an employer can terminate an employee for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all.  This is referred to as the “At Will Employment” rule.

Contract Claim

The most effective way to gain workplace protection is to enter into a contract with your employer that explicitly details the nature of your relationship.  As you can imagine, the overwhelming majority of employees don’t have any authority (called “bargaining power”) to enter into a unique contractual arrangement with their employer.  That is, you must accept the terms of the deal, as the employer specifies.  One of those terms is almost always that you are hired for an unspecified term, making you an at-will employee.

The other method of gaining contractual protection is to join or form a union.  Unionizing is a method for a group of employees to increase their bargaining power and, thereby, force an employer to enter into a contract, called a collective bargaining agreement (it’s “collective” because it doesn’t cover just one employee, but an entire group).

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