4 lessons in workplace rights

4 lessons in workplace rights

Understand your workplace rights—whether you're a team member or manager—in four lessons from top employment attorneys.

Whether you're a team member or manager, you're on the same side of the fence—most of the time. But sometimes, team members cross a line. Or managers set boundaries that seem silly or arbitrary.

Beyond your practice policies, there are many state and local laws that rule your practice, and they're designed to set limits for team members and employers. Philippe Weiss is an attorney and managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work, the dedicated compliance services and training subsidiary for the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. He says when you talk to team members in a different town, region or state, recognize that the laws protecting you and your employer will vary, depending on where you work. So if you face a legal issue, it's important to consult an attorney in your area who can speak specifically to your circumstances and to the laws that govern your workplace.

Let's explore some of the surprising truths you may not know—and how you can maintain a positive, professional relationship and reduce the risk you'll cross wires with managers or coworkers. Consider these four truths:

1. Bosses don't want to fire you

Firing an employee is expensive and uncomfortable for employers, and many will avoid firing until you leave them no choice.

"Employers are constantly trying to figure out ways to avoid terminating employees," says Eric Wersching, a partner and attorney with the law firm of Ross Wersching and Wolcott LLP in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Firing someone disrupts the business, and it costs a lot of money to train new employees. In Wersching's home state of California, if a fired employee has accrued vacation the employer must pay for these unused days. Employees may also be eligible for unemployment insurance.

These simple steps will keep you on the right side of your boss most of the time:

> Arrive on time. Your alarm clock broke, your tire was flat and Fluffy had a hair ball on the carpet and you couldn't just leave it there all day, right? Running late occasionally happens to everyone, but when you're late every Tuesday, managers notice—and it may disrupt your practice's ability to serve clients. Who's going to greet Mrs. Smith at the front desk or take Rover's history before his exam?

> Take your lunch, take your breaks and leave on time. You have a right to break time and lunch time—just don't abuse it. Taking five extra minutes here, five extra minutes there and punching out early not only looks bad—it's stealing, and you can quickly lose your manager's trust.

> Do your job. So you don't like sweeping the reception area. You ran out of time and didn't call the clients you were supposed to follow up with and someone else can clean those cages tomorrow. When you skip tasks and leave the work for others, your coworkers and managers will notice.

> Make sure you use the employer's equipment, computers, vehicles or files only in an authorized manner. For example, Wersching says, in certain situations you can be fired for surfing the web when you're on the clock.

"Following these steps will prevent a lot of the reasons employees are fired," Wersching says. "Then that leaves only those subjective reasons."

The key, he says, is that employers don't fire for one minor issue—you're late once a week every week. Employers usually only fire when there are myriad problems. So start by following the rules, then try to define and meet the rest of your boss's expectations.