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Employee right is a broad term used to describe the range of legal protections that are afforded to individuals and groups that are in the employ of business organizations. Employee rights can be broken into four different categories; rights relating to labor union organizing and collective bargaining; rights relating to working hours and pay; rights relating to workplace safety and workers’ compensation; and rights relating to discrimination in hiring or in the workplace.

 Fundamental employee rights are thus a significant factor in a wide range of human resource management issues that business owners and supervisors face today, including questions concerning employee privacy, promotion policies, drug and alcohol testing and investigations, compilation and upkeep of personnel records and files, monitoring of employee performance and actions, and interactions with labor unions and their memberships.

Contemporary employee rights were established primarily through legislation, much of which was itself triggered by societal changes. Workers also secured rights through collective bargaining, but these rights were themselves established largely through legislation. Analysts contend that individual privacy rights in the workplace have seen their greatest growth in the last decades.

Some observers, particularly those whose sympathies lie with business owners and management, have criticized the growth in protections that have been extended to employees over the last several decades, but even those who perceive an environment of excessive regulations concede that many historic affirmations of individual rights, such as the right to equal treatment at the workplace, regardless of race, religion, or gender, are commonsense changes that do not threaten the ability of companies to operate in a proficient and profitable manner.

Moreover, employers continue to “retain the fundamental and important rights to operate their enterprise and make business decisions.” The manager who sees the challenge of dealing with employee rights will be the one who finds a solution when problems arise. This manager knows that both employee and organizational rights must be protected for the mutual benefit of both; that the objectivity in the actions and decisions of managers is tantamount to judicious problem solving; and that managers must practice humane and precise methods of dealing with a more complex, informed, and idealistic workforce.

Fundamental Employee Rights

State and federal law is full of statutes that extend rights to workers in one area or another, but essentially, all of those statutes provide the following basic rights:

  • Employees have the right to affiliate with or become a member of a recognized labor union or employee organization.
  • Employees have the right to work in a safe environment.
  • Employees have the right to file legal complaints against their employer without being punished in any way by their employer.
  • Personal information about employees will be treated with extreme confidentiality.
  • Employees will not be subject to arbitrary or capricious decisions that affect their employment or life in an adverse fashion.
  • Employees have the right to work in an environment where they receive fair and reasonable treatment.
  • Employees will not be required to perform any illegal or unethical act on behalf of their employer.

Employee rights is a sometimes blurry term in today’s business environment , as changing demographics, increased emphasis on individual rights in their areas of society, increased demands for educated workers, and changes in corporate management philosophies have all contributed to uncertainties about its exact dimensions.

For example, many workers erroneously believe that fulltime workers are legally entitled to paid vacations, sick days, etc. In reality, however, these and many other common provisions of today’s workplace are its benefits, not rights. Yet paid vacations and sick days are so commonplace in many industries, as companies work to offer competitive benefit packages for prospective employees so much that managers and employees come to see such benefits as staples of employee rights. Business owners, then, would do well to research the major laws that serve as the cornerstones of employee rights and communicate the relevant aspects of those laws to their employees.

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Bernard Taiwo
I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.

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