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Rights of Workers in the Workplace

by Jim Welte, studioD

the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, reports that it received more than 99,000 workplace complaints last year. According to the agency, the most frequent types of complaints involved race, sex discrimination, and retaliation. These complaints stem from reported violations of the rights of the workers concerned. Employees' rights in the workplace protect them from not just discrimination, but hazardous working conditions and wrongful terminations, as well.

Workplace Safety

Workers have the right to a healthy and safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSH, charges the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, with enforcing workplace health standards and safety. In case of any hazard, workers must have protective gear or equipment, such as respirators, gloves, earplugs or goggles. The act covers federal government workers and private sector employees. State and local government workers may be covered indirectly through state plans that meet OSHA standards. However, it does not cover self-employed persons, family members of farm employers and workers whose workplace hazards are regulated by other federal agencies, such as the Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Workplace Privacy

Employers should maintain the privacy of employees’ personal details, such as disability, pay or marital status. The Electronics Communications Privacy Act, ECPA, says employers may not tap workers’ personal calls, including ones made using company telephones, once it has been determined to be a personal call. However, they can monitor employees' e-mail usage or phone calls when there is a valid business purpose. A workers' right to privacy also limits being forced to take drug tests. Exceptions include when there is evidence of drug use, in the aftermath of a drug rehabilitation program or after a drug-related workplace accident.


Thanks to the National Labor Representation Act, workers have the right to form a labor union or seek membership in an existing one. Employees can engage in collective bargaining through their desired representatives or participate in concerted efforts for their mutual protection and aid. The act also demands that labor unions must represent all workers diligently and fairly. Employers cannot discipline employees who jointly refuse to perform a risky assignment; however, the act does not protect workers who stand up for a personal cause, such as clamoring for a pay rise.

Fair Treatment

Employees possess the right to fair treatment, which protects them from workplace harassment and discrimination. The Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from hiring or firing workers on grounds of their gender, race, religion or age. Discrimination based on age is legal when only people of a certain age are suitable for the job. According to EEOC, it is also illegal to treat employees unfairly because of their genetic information. An example would be refusing to hire a person whose genetics makes her more likely to contract a debilitating disease. Fair treatment also guarantees workers' right to access reasonable workplace accommodation to cope with their disability needs or practice their religious beliefs.

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