FAQ: What To Do When You Are Treated Unfairly or Improperly At Work?

Employment Law is a broad area including all areas of the employer/employee relationship. These  employment laws include wage regulations, rights to overtime pay, meal and rest periods, wrongful termination, whistleblower protections, employment discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, and sexual harassment.

Protect and assert your rights in the workplace.  You have the right not to be discriminated against, fired, wrongfully terminated, or retaliated against because of your race, national origin, skin color, gender, pregnancy, religious beliefs, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other characteristics, disability, or age.

You have the right to fair pay; to be paid at least the minimum wage, plus an overtime premium for any hours worked over forty in one week or in California and some other states, over eight hours in one day.  You are entitled to meal and rest period breaks.

You have the right to take leave to care for your own or a family member’s serious health condition, pregnancy or following the birth or adoption of a child., and the right to some privacy in personal matters.

You have the right to a safe and hostile free workplace.

You have the right to a work environment free of harassment. One particularly problematic area is sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment includes the discussion of sexual activities, needless touching, indecent gestures, commenting on physical attributes, and crude and offensive language.  Further instances include an employee threatened by the employer with no promotion or pay raise, or termination if they refuse the sexual demand of the superior.  This type of behavior creates a hostile work environment:

The person doing the sexual harassment can be a supervisor, an employer representative, a supervisor of another area, or a co-worker. The sexual harassment can be directed to either sex and even between the same sex.

If you believe you have suffered sexual harassment at work, it is advisable that you put it in writing, Notify in writing your supervisor, manager and human resource department.

Whatever the employment issue is, aside from trying to talk things through with your employer, protect yourself by gathering documentation. Take notes of key conversations and events, including the time, date, and names of others who were present. Gather documents that might support your side of the story, such as company policies, employee handbooks, performance reviews, letters, memoranda, and emails.  However, collect only those documents you have the right to access. Taking or copying confidential documents could get you fired and could hurt and compromise your claims.

If a coworker saw or heard any of the incidents relating to your problem, such as compliments or criticisms, harassing comments, or an invasion of your privacy or  workspace, ask them to write it down in their own words, and have them date and sign the statement.

Before you talk to your employer know your rights and be familiar with the company policies and the facts surrounding the issues.  When you talk to your employer, management or human resources , stay calm and try not to be over emotional, stick to the facts, be confident , summarize in writing the next steps to be taken and follow-up.  Document the problem and the agreed to resolution.

If your employer doesn’t seem to be taking your complaint seriously, or you are demoted or fired, consider whether to take legal action. The law sets deadlines (often called “statutes of limitations”) for filing certain types of claims or lawsuits, ranging from several weeks to several years. If one of these deadlines applies to your case, you will have to think sooner rather than later about whether to go to court. You might want to consult with a lawyer about your problem to figure out how strong your claims are, whether any filing deadlines apply to your dispute, and what you might expect to gain or lose if you file a lawsuit.

Aside from filing a lawsuit you can also contact the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (or similar agency in your state).  In addition, contact Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)