Employee Rights in the Workplace: Losing or Leaving a Job
Did you know that the United States has some of the most relaxed labor laws in the entire world? The ability of a manager or business owner to fire you at will in the U.S. is quite uncommon when compared to many other countries in the world. These and other workplace environmental factors are leading to one in every five workers in developed nations quitting their jobs in 2022.
However, if you’re a hardworking American, you may not be aware of your employee rights in the workplace. State and federal laws may give you the relief you didn’t know you were owed. Keep reading this handy guide to learn more about your rights and how they affect job termination.
At-will termination is an important concept in U.S. labor practices. It means that an employer can fire you for whatever reason at a moment’s notice. It also means that you, as an employee, can leave without giving notice as well.
There are, however, many exceptions to this rule that allow employers and employees to sue someone if the employment is terminated wrongfully by either party. These exceptions include state laws, federal laws, and specialized employment contracts.
New Jersey State Protections
The first protection available to New Jersey employees applies specifically to state, county, and municipal workers. Under the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, government workers can appeal their termination if they believe the reason wasn’t adequate to warrant dismissal.
There are also specific instances in which New Jersey legislation and/or case law protects you from termination. One of the most important of these instances is wage-hour disputes. An employer is not allowed to fire you for raising any wage-related complaint.
Similarly, employers aren’t allowed to fire you for whistleblowing or over filing a worker’s compensation claim. N.J. state law protects you from losing a job in either of these scenarios.
In N.J., certain employee handbooks may also outline a process the employer should follow before your dismissal. If your employer hasn’t followed the outlined process, then a court may view the handbook as an implied contract and allow you to sue on grounds of a breach. However, if the handbook has a disclaimer stating that it should not be viewed as binding, then the court won’t view it as such.
Lastly, N.J. state law also protects employees against discrimination at the workplace. An employer is not allowed to fire you based on your sex, age, race, religion, or political background. State law makes it explicitly clear that gender identity and sexual preferences also fall under this protection.
Federal Law Protections for Employees
You’re also protected against discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This protection applies to basic areas such as race or gender and to very specific protected factors like HIV status. The basic rule would be that employers aren’t allowed to base their treatment of you on an inalienable trait.
Sometimes you hear about someone getting fired for trying to make a change at the workplace. This also counts as unlawful dismissal under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
This often comes up when an employee raises a safety issue, a wage complaint, or a concern about the workplace culture. Safety issues are also covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA).
If you get fired for a safety complaint, then you can sue. You’ll also be able to file a claim with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
Lastly, federal law entitles you to 12 weeks of family and medical leave. Employers aren’t forced to pay you for this time off, but they’re not allowed to fire you for taking time off to see to your health or your family’s needs.
Other Forms of Employee Protection
Workers’ unions often offer a contractual form of job protection to their members. If you’re a union member, your union’s contract with your workplace can protect you from random termination.
Some workplaces have such a strong union presence that non-union employees may even benefit from such contracts. If you work at a place where this may be the case, it may benefit you to investigate how much of the present union’s negotiating power favors your position.
When Can’t You Sue
When termination is justified, then you can’t sue for relief, but how do we know when that is? Firstly, broad financial reasons such as businesses cutting costs or business closings count as justifiable termination. Employees who lose their jobs during these times do not have the right to sue.
However, if your employer is downsizing for financial reasons, they may still be letting go of certain employees for discriminatory reasons. For instance, if the employer dismisses only people of a certain race, sex, or religious point of view, then you may have a discrimination case.
You may also run into trouble if you make an incorrect discrimination claim. For example, your employer may not fire you based on a physical trait, including disability. However, some jobs require that employees meet certain physical standards or capabilities.
If you’re involved in private security or construction and become severely ill or injured, the employer can let you go. This does not constitute discrimination because it relates to your job performance in that field. Such cases fall into the workers’ compensation category.
Consult an Expert on Employee Rights in the Workplace
Every employee has rights in the workplace, even in an at-will employment state. An employer is not allowed to make your life so miserable that you’d leave, nor are they allowed to fire you for a discriminatory or unfair reason. Even though N.J. is an at-will state, employees have far more legal rights than you may realize.
If you think you’re being targeted, treated unfairly, or unfairly dismissed, then you need reliable representation. We understand all the ins and outs of New Jersey labor law. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.