IT Employment

Four common misconceptions about employee rights

Don't confuse what is fair with what is legal as far as employee rights go.

People often confuse "unfair" with "unlawful" in the working world. If an employer does something you think is a terrible practice, it doesn't necessarily make it illegal. Here are some common misconceptions about employee rights:

You can't be fired without good cause.

If you work in a state with at-will employment, an employer can fire you for just about anything. Unless you can prove that the firing is actually discriminatory, you're on your own.

You can't have your pay cut.

Your employer may cut your pay at any time unless:

  • you're a member of a labor union
  • are part of a collective-bargaining agreement
  • have an employment contract

You're entitled to unemployment if you're fired.

People tend to think that getting unemployment pay depends on whether you quit your job or were fired. In fact, in some states if you are fired for misconduct you may not be eligible to collect unemployment.

Your desk and your office are personal property.

You might consider those four cubicle walls demarcations of your personal realm, but they're not. While it's not exactly nice, an employer can even come in and snoop in your desk if he wants. This goes for all email you send out using your company computer or email address.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

20 comments
mork451
mork451

I was fired by Walgreen's in August of 2009 for allegedly not calling in on the day after my heart surgery to let them know I was not going to be in that day. They had full notification with regard to the date of the procedure and that I would be out for at least the following two weeks. They appealed my unemployment, repeatedly, so I got nothing that year. They lost every single appeal but I never saw a dime of unemployment compensation...even though I made every effort to find a job once I had recovered. The system is rigged. These same folks could not manage, after over a year of complaints to their payroll department, to make a single mandated deduction from any of my paychecks (federal, state taxes, FICA etc.) though they seemed to have no trouble deducting my health coverage copay.

Organic53
Organic53

Even in "At Will" states, you can not be fired for just about anything. This is a scare tactic used by management, but it seldom holds up in a court of law. Also, check on the unemployment benefits. Even in states with laws governing wrongdoing, you have a right to appeal. At the appeal, the company must prove the wrongdoing.

downeast
downeast

So taken to the extreme, an employer can cut your pay by 99% and if you quit you can be denied unemployment?

dingbat01
dingbat01

The biggest misconception of all is missing. The simple concept that "Employees have Rights" is the biggest misconception of them all...I've just written a new companies Compliance & Ethics policy; employees have the right to feed themselves and pee, that's about it. everything else belongs to the business. It's hard living in the Kingdom of Humanity...

JBelej
JBelej

I work for a school district. I am constantly amazed at the amount of personal data that our employees leave on laptops, etc. They completely forget about the fact that all of our assets are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

I hope these are not really misconceptions. With regards to pay being cut - when your pay is cut, it is a signal to start looking for another job.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

more like evidince of a single digit IQ... Could have added number five as well, right to free speech...

maclovin
maclovin

That last one REALLY needs to be put on websites and major news network so that all the people that THINK that can get a dose of reality. It's been years since the computer and internet entered the workplace, yet users' understanding of their rights at work has yet to improve. In fact, now they just want to use their personal devices at work. Fine, but if your supervisor asks, I have access to that machine.

IMHAL9000
IMHAL9000

Laws vary in their particulars, but most at will situations mean if the employer fires you without a good reason the best you can hope for is unemployment. You are not entitled to get your job back, nor any consideration whatsoever from your former employer. It's not a scare tactic, and will never be heard in any court unless you count an unemployment hearing as court. You simply do not have the right to force anyone to employ you. Nor can they force you to stay.

fairportfan
fairportfan

But, in general, you'd win that one on appeal. Of course, it would likely take a year or so.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

We can leave, without being hunted down by dogs and forced to return. Took a lot of fighting by our forefathers to win that one.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I see them every day here in the .gov when I log in. It explicitly states that your e-mail is scanned.

HckrAdm2005
HckrAdm2005

We have that problem constantly. When ever I have to search through a former employee's email or have their email forwarded to their Dept head I need to have approval not just from my boss but also from one of the Co-Owners. This is so that they know if any personal email's are sent to this formal employees email address that we are not in "legal trouble" and that the former employees fixes the incoming emails.

TBone2k
TBone2k

Users may bring in their personal devices if they want privacy, but they still have to remember if they connect to our wifi, even if its the public, they are still subject to scanning (not that we would let personal devices connect to our private network). Without sounding like a geezer... Young people today are so used to being connected everywhere, that they don't think about who might be watching their data.

Kcwolfe2
Kcwolfe2

I used to think that we were free to quit too, but then I went to work for a very large corporation and now I'm not that naive. Yes, you can still quit, but if they want to punish you for it and scare the others from leaving, they go after you legally! Multiple-billion $ corporations can "accuse" you of anything and you will go broke paying for the legal fees trying to defend yourself. I watched it happen repeatedly.

schmidtd
schmidtd

Don't be too eager to scan network traffic from personal devices, federal wiretapping laws may apply. Especially now that we have Skype and etc! IANAL, but while everyone is wise to remember they are not on their personal home network, IT staff is wise to remember that some communications really are private. For example, you can't listen in on phone calls without telling BOTH sides of the conversation that it is being taped. Just be careful.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

It's never just business, it's always personal.

elangomatt
elangomatt

Based on a quick wikipedia search, it would appear that only 12 states have dual consent laws on the books. I imagine that putting the "your call may be recorded for quality assurance is just a CYA thing as much as satisfying those dual consent states.