The U.S. Labor Department released its latest unemployment numbers for the month of April, and the news is mixed. The U.S. job market added 290,000 jobs in April, more than predicted and the fourth straight month of job growth. However, the unemployment rate crept up to 9.9% from 9.7%, where it had been for the first three months of the year.
With a record-high 45.9% or unemployed people had been jobless for 27 weeks or more, the unemployment rate is expected to remain high despite other gains in the economy.
Your Rights as an Employee
In tight times, it's important to know what you can legally expect from your employer so you can take appropriate action if your rights are breached. Here's an outline of your rights as a worker.
- Right to freedom from discrimination: Federal law prohibits your employer from treating you in a specific way based on your race, ethnic identity, religion, national origin, sex, disabilities and so forth. If you suspect that a boss took action based on one of these factors, it may be a good idea to contact a lawyer.
- Right to a safe workplace: No employer can subject you to perilous conditions at work or expose you to known safety hazards.
- Right to privacy: While not every state has a right to privacy law, many do, and most include your personal possessions (like purses), storage areas, private phone calls and emails. Be careful, though, because company-owned computers or phones offer only limited protection – in general, if you wouldn’t want your boss or coworkers to see something, keep it out of work email.
- Right to whistle-blowing without consequences: Blowing the whistle on a boss or coworker (that is, notifying authorities about forbidden or illegal activities that someone is conducting or has conducted) is not legally considered grounds for termination.
- Right to leave for qualified medical purposes: Being penalized for certain types of medical leave is prohibited.
- Right to fair wages: This can get murky, because women in the U.S. only make 77 cents to males' dollar despite the law. Plus, discussing salary with coworkers is always uncomfortable, and may be forbidden in some workplaces. Know if your wage fairly represents your experience, job duties and performance—and how to address it if you aren't earning a fair wage.
It’s important to advocate for yourself in the workplace; if you suspect you were let go for reasons that violate any of the above rights, you may want to consider legal action.
But how can you prove whether or not a superior's actions were acts of discrimination? It’s a good idea to have regular discussions with your boss about your expectations at work. When you have a clear outline of what's expected of you, you have more leverage to offer concrete evidence that you upheld your end of the bargain. Standing up for yourself in the workplace can help strengthen your career and help you move on from bankruptcy.