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Employee Rights in the Workplace: What You Need to Know

Various laws have been enacted to outline employee rights, govern the relationship between workers and their employers and generally protect employees in the workplace. From wages and discrimination-related issues to taxation and grounds for termination, a number of different issues come into play with employment law and employee rights.

In this three-part blog, we will take a closer look at some of the specific employee rights that U.S. workers can count on – and that they should be aware of. If people find that their rights as employees have been violated in any way by their employer(s), they are encouraged to contact Denver Employment Law Attorney Thomas E. Downey to learn more about their options for holding their employer accountable.

man in wheelchair at place of employment

An Overview of Employee Rights in the Workplace

Right 1 – Freedom from Discrimination and Harassment

A number of different laws protect workers from discrimination, as well as any type of harassment or abuse, in the workplace. Specifically, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against any employee based on that individual’s:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race, ethnicity and/or national origin
  • Religion.

While this means that employers are not allowed to ask certain types of questions during the hiring process (and that they are not legally permitted to NOT hire someone based on any of the above-described features), it also means that employers cannot refuse to promote someone (or even decide to fire or layoff someone) due to such factors. Instead, employers can generally only make such decisions about a person’s employment based on his or her performance.

Right 2 – The Right to Privacy

Employee rights also protect workers’ right to privacy in the workplace. This means that employers do NOT have the right to inspect workers’ personal property (like, for instance, their purses, personal mail, cellphones, etc.) or to dig through personal space allotted to an employee (like, for example, a locker).

Here, however, it’s important to point out that employers will have the right to screen certain property or messages if or when:

  • An employee has specifically signed a release form acknowledging this type of screening or inspection by the employer.
  • The messages are associated with a work account (like, for example, if the messages are specifically sent to or from a work-supported email address).

There may be other instances too in which employers may have the right to screen or inspect workers’ personal property or messages. However, if you feel that your employer may have violated your rights to privacy at any point, you should contact Downey & Associates, PC for a thorough case evaluation.

Right 3 – The Right to Safety in the Workplace

Another right that employees specifically have is the right to work in a safe environment. In other words, employers have a specific responsibility to:

  • Keep a workplace safe
  • Fix any potential hazards or dangers to employees’ health and safety
  • Provide employees with the necessary training and personal protective equipment to keep them safe while they work
  • Properly store toxic substances.

When employers fail to live up to these obligations and workers are injured at work, injured employees will generally be entitled to compensation for their injuries, medical bills, lost wages, etc.

Right 4 – The Right to Fair Wages

This employee right entitles workers to receive (at the very least) a set minimum wage, as set by federal law. It also means that, if or when workers put in overtime, they can be entitled to “time-and-a-half” (depending on the nature of their job and their contract with their employer). In other words, employers have the responsibility to fairly compensate workers for their labor, and a failure to do so can result in serious penalties being enacted against an employer.

When wage disputes arise between employees and employers, it’s crucial to contact a Denver employment law attorney at Downey & Associates, PC to resolve the dispute as favorably and efficiently as possible.

Right 5 – “Whistleblower” Rights

This employee right specifically empowers workers to stand up to their employers and report any violations, discrimination or other illegal acts that employers may have committed to the proper authorities without retaliation. In other words, these employee rights allow workers to blow the whistle on their employers’ wrongdoings and to do so without worrying about losing their jobs, being demoted or otherwise being the targets of retaliation from an employer.

In fact, if employers try to retaliate against employees who have exercised their whistleblower rights, employees can sue their employers for compensation.

Specific Laws Governing Employee Rights in the Workplace

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – This federal law specifically prohibits any type of workplace discrimination on the basis of physical and/or mental impairments a person may have. In fact, according to the terms of the ADA, if an impaired person has the ability to perform the essential functions of a job, an employer is legally prohibited from discriminating against the worker in any way based on his disability or impairment.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act – This statute prevents employers from discriminating against workers who are 40 years old or older, and it specifically applies to employers with at least 20 employees. Interestingly, the language in this act does NOT prevent employers from preferentially treating older workers at the detriment of younger workers.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act – This complicated federal law covers a number of different issues pertaining to employee rights, including (but not necessarily limited to) the length of work days, mandatory breaks employers must provide to workers, fair wages and legally required overtime wages.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act – This law specifically gives employees the right to take a leave of absence from work for specific medical purposes or conditions. In fact, according to the terms of this Act, employees may be entitled to take up to 12 weeks off of work for medical reasons (as long as these employees have worked for an employer for at least 12 months and for a minimum of 1,250 hours during the prior 12-month period). During this leave of absence, employers are NOT legally allowed to fill the employees’ position; in other words, the law protects an employee’s job while he or she is on his medical leave.
  • Title VII – This details employee rights to be free from discrimination, and this federal law specifically applies to employers that have at least 15 employees.

Contact a Denver Employment Law Attorney at Downey & Associates, PC

If you need help with any matter of employment law, you can count on Denver Employment Law Attorney Thomas E. Downey. Since 1983, Thomas Downey and the other legal professionals at Downey & Associates, PC, have been providing individuals and businesses in the Denver Metro Area and throughout the U.S. with the highest level of legal service for their employment law, property tax and real estate legal issues.

We have the integrity, experience and resources necessary to ensure that you will receive the highest level of personal service, the highest quality legal services and, ultimately, the best possible resolution to your case.

Let’s Talk…

We encourage you to learn more about your rights and options, as well as our various services, by calling us at (303) 813-1111 or by emailing us using the contact form on this page.

From our law offices in Centennial, we serve clients throughout Colorado and the U.S.

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