When I worked as a secretary, my boss was a little more than friendly. It made me uncomfortable, but I put up with the comments and jokes because I liked my job and the people I worked with, and the pay was good. We were the office “girls,” getting coffee for the boss, taking dictation and answering the phones. That was just the way it was.
Some of you who are reading this are shocked. Some are saying, “Things haven’t changed much.” While some attitudes and behavior haven’t changed, employees have more rights and the power to take action to change the workplace environment. Employment law changes and program provisions may vary depending on the state where you work. If you have questions, talk to your manager, human resources or go to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website for more information and updates.
1. Workplace Safety. Four years ago, a sugar refinery exploded in Savannah, killing 14 people and injuring many more. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards for workplace safety, training and reporting of workplace safety violations. It also protects anyone who files a report with OSHA for safety violations in the workplace. So, if you are working in dangerous conditions, even if nothing has happened yet, you have the right to report it and work in safe conditions without fear of retaliation
2. Workers' Compensation. If you’re injured on the job, you have may be eligible for medical treatment and compensation. You also have the right to come back to your job or a similar job with the same pay and benefits you had before you were injured. Some people feel embarrassed and don’t report injuries. This can lead to further medical problems down the road.
3. No Harassment. For any reason. You can’t be coerced into dating the boss or have to tolerate racial comments or jokes about your gender or religion. Title VII of the Civil Rights and other anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace. Keeping quiet to get along with everyone doesn’t make the bullies stop. Things usually get worse. Standing up for yourself helps everyone.
4. Fair Pay. If you’re paid by the hour, with few exceptions you are eligible for overtime pay after working 40 hours in one week. Federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour. And you shouldn’t be expected to work “off the clock.” Some companies try to cut corners, ask for favors or just assume if you’re a good employee you won’t mind working a little longer just to help out. Your check should reflect pay for all time worked on the job.
5. Whistleblower Protection. If your boss or co-worker is cooking the books, siphoning off money into a personal Swiss bank account or cheating investors with a Ponzi scheme, you have the right to blow the whistle without fear of retaliation. Whistleblower laws protect you from termination or harassment for turning the crooks in.
Employees have the right to be treated with fairness and respect. You shouldn’t have to choose between doing what is right and keeping your job.
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