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What employees should know to protect their rights

All employees in the United States are guaranteed civil liberties under the law, with specific individual rights protected by law from unjust interference. Some of these individual rights include the right to live a life free of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation and unsafe working conditions.

Although both federal and state laws protect employees from interference of their rights, the laws vary from one state to another. However, every employee should know whether they are employees or independent contractors, whether federal, state or local minimum wage laws apply to their situation and if they are at-will employees.

Here's what you need to know as an employee:

Family Medical Leave Act
The Family Medical Leave Act, FMLA, allows qualifying employees employed by a qualified employer to take time off so that they can care for a sick family member. The statute is designed to ensure that such an employee's job is protected for a given period of time while they are out.

Right to go on strike
The law allows workers to go on a lawful strike and engage in union activities. Although union activities are legally protected, impromptu walkouts may not always be deemed to be lawful.

Is it legal for a boss to take employees' tips?
For employees in the service industry, bosses are not allowed to take their tips. However, the hourly wages of an employee can be offset or reduced based on tips. As long as employees have provided the necessary notice, tipped staff members are allowed to tip pool amongst themselves.

Is it legal for bosses to read employees' emails?
Generally speaking, employees give consent for their employers to monitor their online activities when they sign hiring documentation. This means that bosses are allowed by the hiring documents to read employees' work emails. When there is a compelling reason, employers can read personal emails, provided they were used for work related activities.

Can you be fired for taking legal drugs?
The use of drugs such as alcohol, cigarettes and prescribed medications is permitted by law. However, in case the drugs adversely affect the performance of the particular employee or that of others in the workplace, employers are allowed to take disciplinary action or terminate the said employee.

What if you refuse to do something illegal?
In most cases, employees who refuse to commit acts that are in violation of the law will be fired. Such terminations are, in themselves, considered to be a violation of the law. Employees that are fired in this manner can sue for wrongful termination.

Is it a legal requirement to take a lunch break?
While state laws may vary on this subject, employers are only required to allow for a lunch break. However, employees cannot be incentivized or compelled to skip lunch.

You have rights in the workplace. It is important to understand your rights and take action when you believe your rights have been violated. Speaking with an employment attorney can help you learn about what steps to take.

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