Censorship

What can private corporations do to employees? Just about everything

Employers in the private sector can be fired for just about any reason, and most rights we take for granted don't necessarily apply. Do workers need an Employee Bill of Rights?

In his new book Can they do that?, Lewis Maltby says that employees are often surprised at the reasons over which they can be fired.

With all that you hear today in the news about employees suing former employers, you'd think that it would be very difficult for an employer to actually fire someone. But the reality is different in the private sector.

In a recent interview on NPR, Maltby said, "Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment - but only where the government is concerned. What most Americans generally don't know is that the Constitution doesn't apply to private corporations at all."

Private corporations can fire someone for almost anything. Maltby related an incident when a worker was fired for having a bumper sticker that expressed a political view that did not jibe with the CEO's.

The only thing that a corporation cannot do is eavesdrop on a personal oral conversation. Anything else, Maltby said, "is open season."

I've written before about how employers-potential and existing-are within legal limits to peruse individuals' personal blogs or Facebook pages, and to watch what you put there. Maltby says employers do this regularly and can fire someone over what they see.

And it doesn't stop there. In his book, Maltby relates stories of employer abuses that include tracking employees through cell phone GPS locators to placing hidden cameras in restrooms. He says that 20% of employers now require employees to agree before being hired not to go to court if the corporation violates their legal rights.

While most people would agree that a private company has the right to run itself any way it sees fit, you can see how this right could be abused. Maltby is pushing for the Bill of Rights to apply to the private sector. In the book appendixes, he provides sample letters to elected representatives and human rights organizations as well as an Employee Bill of Rights.

This post is also available as a PDF download.

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.

313 comments
hairyhaggis
hairyhaggis

Americans are treated like working class peasants who only exist to make the rich richer and the ruling class more powerful. For example they think why give these peasants decent health care if they snuff it we still have anothe 300 million to choose from. And why give themn an education, that's only for the rich. If we educate them they will start to ask questions and even the propaganda from our right wing media wont be enough. NO THEY WILL NEVER GIVE THE SAME RIGHTS IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR...NEVER...

bitdoctor
bitdoctor

Several (maybe most?) states in the U.S. are considered "at will" states - they can terminate an employee "at will," for any reason EXCEPT race, color, religion, national origin, age or handicap. What most employers do to get 'around' the fact that they are firing someone for 'age' or 'race' is to "create a reason" and 'doctor' the employee's "performance reviews."

santeewelding
santeewelding

Nearly all, if not all this thread, having myself participated, I realize upon re-reading the title that "private" is an artifice of story telling. "Private" has little to do with it. What does have to do with it is how any one of us stands with respect to the rest of us, and, how the rest of us stand with respect to any one of us. That game has been going on since the time when there were three and then more of us -- any one with respect to two; any two with respect to one. Corporate information technology is not as new as it is made out to be.

jcommunications
jcommunications

Worker bees are free Even drones can fly away The queen is their slave

mcgspook
mcgspook

You can be fired for anything because... Freedom of association works both ways. Just as you can walk away from a job at will, they can also walk away from you. Be careful what you wish for before you end up under "contract" with someone you hate :-)

mattohare
mattohare

Good point, but his applies to almost any business in the private sector. Particularly where labour unions are not involved. Don't use the word corporation unless it specifically applies to stock-owned firms that shield liability from the shareholders? Do you really think that a small sole-trader is any different from this?

W11buddy
W11buddy

Practically every issue/question has more than one side. What can employees do to employers? Just about everything: steal company secrets, sabotage, affect morale, financial embezzlement, steal customers' info, etc.

hmmmmm!
hmmmmm!

Forst having read a lot of posts with "Keep Gov out of business" etc.. seems to indicate a lot of posters have little real work experience..as when the corps start "doing as they wish and gov stay out".. the results are not always the "oh gee they did that but they have that right etc". Corps will go to extremes like any other preditor if cornered, and those that have been in the work force for years have seen it happen. Start shipping sub standard stuff and complain, well out you go, same for any of a lot of other areas. and when you try for new job, well the "reference" is not going to get you hired. Be very careful of what you think is "not gov business" as with zero protections... it can get real excitng real fast, and real unemployed. Had bud that said enough is enough, and refused to sign off on SW packages being used in chips as they were not tested.. he was "let go" and then told, best be quite about what you saw here as you signed up to that when we hired you.. and they meant it. He never could get a good job ref for the five years he was there. Saw same for other areas, not all corps will do this, but it only takes one. Now most of you are not in favor of unions as they "just for that dirty working class jobs like auto's and such, and of course do not know what it might be like, yet, when the unions are finally gone.. and so will be your bennies, raises etc.. as the only reason most have/had decent wages/benefits/retirements was unions got them and corps had to give them to all. which is now slowly being taken away from all. What is going on in work force now days is same as what they did to unions.. corp rules. and in fact right now the NLRB (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Labor_Relations_Board) CANNOT investigate any NLRB actions as congress has NOT acted on approving enough people for quorum.. and Corp USA wants it that way. So you newbies best be real careful of what you wish.. as it might just happen..but that is something you will learn over time.. and Corps can play real rough.. again something you will learn over time. Yep get a few employee miles under belt and you might just change your tune about "Business can do as it wants.. read a bit of history on that before you reply..

daniel.stipp
daniel.stipp

isn't think what the "communist Manifesto" was all about?

landen99
landen99

For years, I have been saying that companies should be held legally responsible for how they treat their employees. It wasn't until companies totally forget ethics that the people forced the private industry back with unions. The formation of unions clearly signaled the lack of government intervention in issues which clear fell along ethical and moral lines which fall upon the government's responsibility (though usually neglected) for the advancement of the public peace. Clearly there are ethical limits over which private corporations have shown no qualms about overstepping. Clearly government has and continues to fail in identifying a Bill of Rights which applies to corporations that can not be signed away. What I would like to see is codification of what those rights are exactly and how to enforce compliance with them. I have heard the arguments for corporate electronic spying on employees, and I disagree. No CEO would stand for being treated the way he treats his employees. Unpaid training, or other paperwork for both employees and prospective employees crosses an ethical line as well. Some companies have required several hours of character assessments, psychological assessments, and intellectual assessments which not only far exceed what any CEO would accept, but also represent unpaid work for the company. Hiring and firing tend to be quite inefficient processes which involve a lot of awkward and ineffective tests which easily cross the line on right to privacy and on racial and political employer bias. Of course, the list goes on and on.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

What can private corporations [b][i]in the USA[/i][/b], do to employees." In Canada, despite the Canadian Bill of Rights, there are provincial and federal Employment standards in place that ALL companies operating in Canada must abide by. They can't fire you for any reason at all. They can't ask you to sign restrictive non competition agreements; though a very common thing Canadian companies headed by US companies TRY to do anyway, however even signing it doe not legally bind you to it and they are easily overthrown if a company ever takes you to court over it. They can't fire you over a bumper sticker they don't approve of. They can't fire you over a weblog or similar. However, they will simply make up some other excuse for your dismissal anyway. *Permanent layoff due to shortage of work. *Unable to reach objectives to the "company's" satisfaction. A big broad one there! etc. In all the cases I've seen go in front of a judge, I couldn't tell you how many were where an employee had been let go for a valid reason, yet insisted it was actually due to something else unjust anyway.

dba88
dba88

It's called, Employment "At Will." It puts a super big chunk of the power in control of the employer! If you want to work there, you sign an agreement before you start. If you get fired, the burden of proof is on you! An employment attorney will run you through some tests to see if you have a valid case. Most of time, you probably don't. An employer can "can" you for whatever reason tickles their fancy, or even, for no reason! Legally, they don't have to give you a reason, or should they so choose, they can give you whatever reason they want, as long as it's legal. They can say, "Well, we've been hearing some things from so and so and we don't think it's gonna work out. So, we had a meeting this morning with HR and we think it's best we part company today." So... while you're sitting there in total shock and amazement, there isn't a ding dang thing you can do about it!! Th, th, th , that's all folks! Yes, the system needs to be fixed!!!!!!!!!!! But... the business lobies in Washington will never, ever, ever, let that happen!!!

bitdoctor
bitdoctor

FYI, in this region of the US, there are 4 major categories for termination: 1) Employee voluntarily left 2) Employer has no work for employee; and/or eliminates the positon 3) Employer states "involuntary termination." 4) Employer states "terminated for [cause]" Make sure you apply for benefits NO MATTER the reason given - except if you QUIT on your own - then you are not due any benefits. HR could not state that my brother was terminated "for cause," because they did not have due justification, but still tried to deny his benefits. "Involuntary termination" is open-ended, and leaves it easier for you to apply for benefits and contest the company's decision to deny you beneits. Even "for cause" situations can be contested. I won such a case about 7 years ago, when a company was cutting based on cost, and was also trying to manufacture reasons to terminate people. In my brother's case above, the company also sent out a memo less than 2 months before his termination and said, "Please DO NOT incur any more expenses; all projects are on hold, due to cost issues; nothing over $200 will be approved at a level less than AVP." So, clearly this large company wanted to cut costs as well as make some other changes, but wanted NOT to pay unemployment; instead, the company ended up paying full unemployment benefits for 8 months AND having to pay for a replacement for the terminated employee - 3 people trasitioned in and out of the position after my brother left, so... that also gives you a clue of what is happening in that environment.

bitdoctor
bitdoctor

My brother received no less than three awards, a bonus and a raise, before the AVP of where he was working finally doctored his review with all ZEROES (lowest rating), just a couple months after the awards, the bonus and a 3% raise. The AVP did not like my brother and, my brother's manager told him exactly that, and said, "I was forced to put all zeroes on your review, even though I don't agree with it; but, really, it's not a bad review." Shortly after that, my brother was terminated; the manager, in the exit interview said, "Due to performance issues," but the AVP countered and said, "We feel like you really just don't fit in here." The company tried to deny unemployment benefits by staing "performance issues," but the labor board made them pay the benefits, for about 8 months - which is how long my brother was out of work. He showed me the letter from Labor Board that said, "No wrongdoing on the part of the employee was found; unemployment benefits are approved; there is no evidence that the employee's performance was not adequate." In this case, as the Labor Board realized, the employer was, for one thing, trying to get out of paying unemployment benefits, by claiming the employee did not meet required performance standards - but thankfully, it did not fly with the Labor Board. Additionally, the Labor Board noticed that the employer was attempting to "manufacture" reasons for terminating the employee. This is [at least] the 2nd case of this happening at this major US company of almost a billion dollars per year in revenue.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

:D Affect morale shouldn't be in that list. Either you are good for it, in which case you have a great value, or you are just telling the truth, which also has value. The idea that someone saying that conditions here are crap, is the problem as opposed to the conditions being crap, is probably the defacto reason for this thread's existance.

santeewelding
santeewelding

I ain't no newbie. That not so, I guess I don't get to reply. Can say, though, that you bare your ass.

dba88
dba88

If I'm not mistaken, unions are under "right to work" laws and there are different legal routes these take. In the US, there are very, very few right to work states left. Also, I think one of the reasons "at will" laws are set up the way they are, is frivolous law suits. On the other hand, the employers are conducting frivolous terminations, and... I guess that's legal!! One other point I'd like to make is that the employee has every right to walk into his manager's office, or into the HR office and terminate the employer. The employee does not have to give any reason whatsoever! The employee might say, for example, that he / she is terminating the employers for lack of performance or performance not adhering to the employee's standards, or nothing at all! The only reason the employer wins in the general scheme of things is that they are the ones with the pay checks, insurance, benefits, etc. They hold all the best cards! In these super difficult economic times, it's very hard to quit one's job, unless you have one already set up to go to. Also, there is no longer any loyalty between employer and employee. Any time an employer holds all the cards, the scales are obviously tipped incorrectly, if your an employee. Put yourself in the shoes of an employer though and you can get a different perspective. There was a time when court filings were way up for sexual harassment. Many woman were bringing on frivolous law suits against companies. Some may have been legitimate and it hurt those cases a lot. Wrongful termination is another one. Like I stated in another post, the employment attorney will run you through a number of tests to see if you have a valid case!! Otherwise, you'll waste your money!! Perhaps we could ask an employment lawyer to answer the differences and apply them to this thread.

ronjeff
ronjeff

Wrong! Even if you sign an agreement not to sue, your age, sex, religion, disabilities and other rights are protected under the Equal Opportunity laws against discrimination. If you are doing a lousy job, this isn't for you. Maybe you need to be fired and find a new job. BUT, if your work has added to the value of a company and they let you go for anything that is not work performance related, your complaint has can be filed with the EEOC. Even if you don't want to sue the company, the Feds will if they see a pattern. Just know that you have rights. If you are a manager, be Very careful who you group for layoffs. Could be the end of your career if you don't.

jk2001
jk2001

Working people need to form organizations, craft policy that can work and become laws, learn to be part-time lobbyists (or more likely - raise money to hire lobbyists) and get laws changed. If you work, and you're not in an organization to affect positive changes for your work situation, you're really not getting how democracy works.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Being not much else to do with an inescapable.

hmmmmm!
hmmmmm!

And you are supposedly a CEO etc.. sure you are.. can tell by the elegance of your posting.. perhaps so in your little world.

Techeads Anonymous
Techeads Anonymous

Unions, Still an option that most employees should consider. I know I'll get a lot of flack about this. However, unions fought for Blacks, Whites, Woman workers rights and, against child labor.

jk2001
jk2001

Who ever heard of that? It's called "quitting". And even when times are good, most people have mortgages and fiscal responsibilities, so, they don't quit without at least a temporary job lined up. Also, in my experience, there's a lot of sexism out there, and a lot of racial discrimination. Most people put up with it, to keep their jobs. Those who sue, it seems they hold out until the end, and then sue on exit. That doesn't mean the suit wasn't justified. It just means that the employer has the advantage, and, employees cut the employer a lot of slack because they needed the job.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

There are 22 right to work states. Right to work laws were established to prevent the establishment of closed shops in those states, ostensibly to give the worker the choice to join or not join a union. The effect tends to greatly reduce union influence on wages in those states; my observation is that the phrase "right to work" is incomplete, omitting the concluding phrase "for less." On the other hand, the traditional union, as typified by the UAW and Teamsters, has become as much an impediment to job creation and workplace improvement improvement as an abusive and capricious boss. http://www.nrtw.org/rtws.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-to-work_law etu

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

You should know me well enough to know that I was agreeing with you and not referring to your comment but the poster before you.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

RF can do some strange things, too. But none of that ever affected me, correction, affected me, correction, affected me, correction, affected me...

Barklessdog
Barklessdog

He's a welder, and heliarc can do some strange things to the psyche (although it never, it never, it never, it never affected me - much).

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

My careers have been challenged a million times too. I am VERY good at evaluating people when speaking to them face to face, I have studied techniques for telling truth from lies, used by RCMP and military investigators etc. I have studied the human mind, himan mannersisms and human interaction for decades. Howver, to make such an absurd statement based on a persons post in a free online forum, simply demonstrates the ignorance of the poster who is throwing down the gauntlet. What a maroon!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The idea that you are a senior manager. Your grammar and punctuation argue otherwise.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You're incapable of any thought more complex than "us vs. them."

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

why include a body? nt is an abbreviation for no text.

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

Why do you keep posting empty replies, with "-nt-" at the end of the title? Is there something wrong with your web browser?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

THE corporate ethic is already well defined. "Thou shalt give the shareholder a return on their investment" As for government defining ethics, you'd have to introduce the concept to the self serving lying b'stards first. You'd get better results off the priests at a catholic boys school.....

landen99
landen99

When the unions lost strength, government had yet to step in and protect worker's constitutional rights and keep corporations ethical. The emergence of the union was the red flag the government failed its job, and still government fails the same job: protecting the individual from the powerful rich. Aristocracies smother the public for the benefit of the rich, and unchecked democracies (socialists) smother the rich for the benefit of the people. Government is supposed to protect each from the other, hence the House and the Senate. To do that, we need to define corporate ethics and make them law. We also need to prevent people from singling out the rich by invading their financial privacy, and we need to do it with the force of law.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Senior to which in the scheme of where you're at? One off the bottom?

hmmmmm!
hmmmmm!

Most will not do much about unions as in truth they do not have the nerve to go on strike of demand decent pay and working conditions. Amusing how when unions were strong corp USA still made reasonable profits.. and workers, even the clerks in stores got full benefits..and the profits were still there. ' But once Regan and buds convinced the less then bright unions were evil.. the public like uneducated sheep went along and after unions took hits,.. now so do workers.. but most do not have a clue, other then when you ask.. Well who will represent workers to corp usa.. they just glaze over and come up with some sort of corp USA talking points.. Now with USA In decline it is stunning that USA is ONLY nation where citizens think it is just fine that union workers get same wages as those in foreign owned plants in USA. A bit bizarre as they do not quite get it that when unions wages cut, so is theirs.. but most not to well educated on unions. I have had union workers and did appreciate fact if I needed journey level, I KNEW they were educated, tested and certified as such by the unions.. and if they did not do the job, I could ask union to replace them. But since most that post anti union never were at that level, they just parrot corp USA talk. Anyone ever ask how "odd" that when Corp USA cuts "union wages etc". the product costs never go down, and this is after they howled about "union costing to much"?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Unions gain the ability to wield political power through collecting dues from members. That means they have a vested interest in keeping jobs. Closed shop, demarkation, shorter working hours, anti overtime, all make money for the union. I did 19 years in a union, left the place, got a fifty pecent pay rise, it was the union who said it would only be fair to pay me more if the employer would pay everyone else more as well. They called it parity, I call it a pile of shite. I was way more valuable than most of them, they couldn't leave and get that sort of rise. A lot of the poor f'kers are still there, I went back on contract six years later, for three times the money I used to earn, and that was after the .dot com bust! I wa on more money than the guys running the place during the boom. Which ever way you look at it there's only so much money in the pot for pay, even in a non profit. Unions raise the lowest paid by a pittance, feather the nest of their reps, and they do it to the rest of the workforce's cost. Elevation of mediocrity. The Tolpuddle martyrs were killed for their ideals , modern union reps are paid for them, usually in silver....

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

in one of a series of posts and on my location to jump to all sorts of conclusions, then start parroting left-wing gobbledygook as well as a right-winger parrots Rush. Call back when you're capable of coherent thought.

santeewelding
santeewelding

And moon everyone, I guarantee you will truly meet with sad results.

hmmmmm!
hmmmmm!

Still waiting for you post some facts on exactly how unions do their damage to workplace improvement etc.. as if you ever get the up the org chart you will find that management, NOT the line workers determine standards.. quality, processes etc. But your lack of real knowledge is about average as USA goes down and FYI. even China and Korea recognize unions and China has high support fot the ones at Wal Mart. But your atypical of those that really never were up the line or worked with unions. as to whom does what. Note I suspect you'd not support most pro sports, super bowl etc.. as the players are VERY union? Read a bit other then some right wing site you post and note the southern location you are at. Not exactly a pro union area as health care, wages, education levels and benefits more then prove it. Just whom do you think got such things for USA workers. corp USA? You should try to put in eight hours on the assembly line before you bay the right wing talking points.

hmmmmm!
hmmmmm!

Still waiting for you post some facts on exactly how unions do their damage to workplace improvement etc.. as if you ever get the up the org chart you will find that management, NOT the line workers determine standards.. quality, processes etc. But your lack of real knowledge is about average as USA goes down and FYI. even China and Korea recognize unions and China has high support fot the ones at Wal Mart. But your atypical of those that really never were up the line or worked with unions. as to whom does what. Note I suspect you'd not support most pro sports, super bowl etc.. as the players are VERY union? Read a bit other then some right wing site you post and note the southern location you are at. Not exactly a pro union area as health care, wages, education levels and benefits more then prove it. Just whom do you think got such things for USA workers. corp USA?

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