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How to Defend Employee Rights

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As an employee, you have rights in the workplace. These include the right not to be discriminated against, the right to a workplace free of harassment, the right to fair pay, the right to a safe workplace, the right to take leave to care for your own or a family member's serious health condition or to take care of a baby or adopted child, and the right to privacy in some matters. There are times when you will need to defend these rights on the job.

Know your rights. If you think your rights have been violated, do some research on the Web or at the library. You can't defend your rights until you find out what they are.

Prepare to present your concerns to your employer. Write a brief summary of the problem as you see it. Stick to the facts. Include your recommendations for resolving the problem. Have a third party review your summary before you submit it to make sure it is as objective as possible.

Present the summary of the problem to your employer. Don't be too emotional when you do it. Practice your presentation beforehand to make sure you can remain calm. Avoid outbursts or unfounded accusations.

Decide with your employer what to do about the problem. Make sure you come to an agreement with your employer about what steps will be taken next. These could include a company investigation, a talk with your co-workers or a change in job responsibilities. Follow up with your boss to make sure he takes the actions he promised to take.

If your boss declines to act, prepare to take your complaint to the next level. Document all actions you have taken to solve the problem. Take notes on conversations you had with your boss or interactions you had with co-workers. Document the original incident by writing down dates, times, details and witnesses or people involved. Gather documents that support your side of the story, such as company policies, employee handbooks, performance reviews, memos and emails.

Notify your union or human resources department of the problem and give them copies of your documentation. See if the union or human resources department will take action on your behalf. Continue to document all your efforts and interactions. Keep notes of dates, times, who you speak to and what is said.

Consider hiring an employment law attorney if you are having no luck getting your issue resolved through the company or your union. Ask the lawyer how strong your claim is and what you might gain or lose if you file a lawsuit. Provide the attorney with all your documentation and be prepared to thoroughly explain the initial incident and all the steps you have taken to resolve it. Make sure you are willing to take legal action before you do so.


Ellen Ciurczak has had a career in California in the broadcast journalism field for 21 years. She's specialized in covering politics at the state capital in Sacramento. Her radio reports have aired on National Public Radio, CBS Radio and the BBC. She received her graduate degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.