Even without an employment contract, employees are guaranteed certain legal rights and protections. Some are implied and some are established by the courts. Then there are also legal rights explicitly established by federal statutes. With all of these different sources of legal protection, there are still a number of myths circulating regarding the rights of employees.
No. 1 – "At will" employment means you can be fired for any reason
Many states consider themselves "at will" employment states. A common misconception is that employees can, therefore, be terminated for any reason whatsoever. This is not entirely the case. While you can be terminated for a wide variety of reasons, even reasons that do not always seem fair or make sense, there are still some reasons that are illegal. Primarily, anti-discrimination statutes have created exceptions to the at-will doctrine. The same is true with regard to probation periods. You cannot simply be terminated during the probation period if the real reason is discriminatory bias.
No. 2 – Every employee is entitled to rest breaks
Most clients assume that they have a right to rest breaks during their shifts. However, without an employment agreement, collective bargaining agreement or formal employment policy, there is no real authority for rest breaks or meal breaks. Federal regulations do not require a meal break, but do encourage employers to provide rest breaks.
No. 3 - Free speech protects employees at the workplace
First of all, there is no basic right to free speech in a private workplace. However, there are protections for employees who discuss the "terms and conditions" of their employment. Those types of discussions are protected, not by the First Amendment, but by the National Labor Relations Act. Therefore, there is no guaranteed right to discuss politics, sports or married life, for instance, in a private workplace.
No. 4 – Employees have to be written up before they can be fired
A very common misconception is that your supervisor has to write you up before they can fire you. This is not at all the case. In fact, most employers include in their employee handbooks a list of terminable offenses, meaning that you can be terminated immediately. On the other hand, employers that have what are referred to as "progressive discipline" policies. However, those policies are not binding in most courts.
No. 5 – Employers have no right to read my emails
One of the most common issues in employment is privacy, particularly privacy in emails. The general rule regarding emails is that, because they are generated with the use of your employer's equipment and server, those emails technically belong to the employer. As such, your employer has the right to review your emails at any time. There is an exception for private emails.
If you feel your rights as an employee have been violated, or if you have any questions regarding your other employment matters, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.