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Six Ways People Get Employment Rights Wrong

Six Ways People Get Employment Rights Wrong

By Caroline Levchuck

Most people who have jobs may be a little unclear about what rights they have and don't have on the job and in the workplace.  

"Most employees naively believe that their own individual sense of fairness is what controls a work environment," says attorney Margarita Ramos, an employment law expert and founder of Human Capital Consulting in New York City. "But fairness has nothing to do with it. Just because something is unfair doesn't mean it's unlawful."

Read on for six common misconceptions about employee rights.

Your Employer Can't Fire You Without Good Cause

"If you're employed in an at-will employment state, you can be fired for just about anything, Ramos says. "The reason I hear most often is that a person is not a team player. That's a gray area, but it gets used all the time. Unless you find that it's really discrimination, there's not a lot you can do about it."

You Have a Right to Earn the Same as a Coworker Who Does the Same Job

It's true that there are laws guaranteeing equal pay, but another person may have more experience or more seniority and thus may legally earn a higher salary. "I've managed people, and I've had some doing the 'same' job," Ramos says. "However, what an employee may not realize is that the other person may be doing the same job but she may have more complex clients, handle a more complex region or be taking on more responsibilities."

"Keep the focus on you and your value," she adds.

Your Employer Can't Cut Your Pay

Your employer may cut your pay at any time unless you're a member of a labor union, are part of a collective-bargaining agreement or have an employment contract.

"Most of the cases involving a pay reduction are driven by the financial performance of a business," Ramos says. "A good employer will manage your expectations before taking any actions. You'll know it's coming so you can take care of your finances."

Your Emails Are Your Private Property

Emails you send using company servers or equipment are company property. "Today, most employers have policies around that issue," she says. "Unfortunately, most employees don't read through their handbooks when they start a job."

To safeguard your career, exercise extreme caution when sending and receiving emails and surfing the Internet.

You're Entitled to Unemployment If You're Fired

It depends on the state in which you live, but if you are fired for misconduct you may not be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. "If you've been fired for cause, most employers will contest your application for unemployment," Ramos says. "And even if your employer doesn't contest it, the state's [decision may be] based on the information your employer provides when responding to your claim."

If you want to know what your employer considers misconduct, read your employee manual.

Your Employer Can't Snoop in Your Desk or Office

Your desk and your office are company -- not personal -- property. "You should really assume that you have no privacy in the workplace," Ramos says.

Treat your desk, office, computer and mobile device with extreme caution, she says, and keep them free of anything that could be considered even vaguely offensive or unsuitable for the workplace.

"People really should read their employee handbooks," Ramos says. "As boring as they may seem, handbooks contain a lot of information. It used to be that they were vague and not well-written, but that's changed. And ask questions if something is unclear."

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