NOLO’s Encyclopedia of Everyday Law (Workplace Rights) Part II

Posted by Chris Morales on Thu, Aug 01, 2013 @ 07:00 AM

How do I assert my rights to a safe workplace?

If you feel that your workplace is unsafe, your first action should be to make your supervisor aware of the danger. If your employer doesn't make take prompt action, follow up in writing. Then, if you are still unsuccessful in getting your company to correct the safety hazard, you can file a complaint at the nearest OSHA office. Look under the U.S. Labor Department in the federal government section of your local telephone directory. You can also file a complaint online at

Who pays workers' compensation benefits?

In most states, employers are required to purchase insurance for their employees from a workers' compensation insurance company. In some states, larger employers who are clearly solvent are allowed to self-insure or act as their own insurance companies while small companies are not required to carry worker's compensation insurance at all. When a worker is injured, the employee's claim is filed with the insurance company- or self insuring employer- which pays medical and disability benefits according to a state-approved formula.

Does workers' compensation cover only injuries, or does it also cover long-term problems and illnesses?

Your injury does not need to be caused by an accident-such as fall from a ladder-to be covered. Many workers, for example, receive compensation for repetitive stress injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome and back problems, that are caused by overuse or misuse over a long period of time. You may also be compensated for some illnesses and diseases that are the gradual result of work conditions-for example, heart conditions, lung disease, and stress-related digestive problems.

How do I find a good workers' compensation lawyer-and how much will it cost?

You usually don't need a lawyer unless you suffer a permanent disability or all or part of your workers' compensation claim is denied. If you find yourself in one of these situation, you'll probably want to do some research and learn your rights and duties.

If I receive workers' compensation, can I also sue my employer in court?

Generally, no. The workers' compensation system was established as part of a legal trade-off. In exchange for giving up the right to sue an employer in court, you get workers' compensation benefits-generally fairly quickly and without legal wrangling no matter who was at fault.

What should I do if I think I'm being discriminated against?

Your first step is to let your employer know that you believe you are a victim of discrimination. If your employer has a complaint procedure, make sure you follow it. If there's no formal complaint procedure, ask the human resources department or a manager how to complain. Filing a complaint will not only give your employer an opportunity to fix the problem, it will also protect your right to collect damages from your employer if you decide to file a lawsuit.

If I have a disability, how do I get my employer to provide an accommodation?

The first step is simple, but over looked: Ask. The ADA places the burden on you to tell your employer that you have a disability and that you need an accommodation. When you ask for an accommodation, you do not need to use formal legal language or even do it in writing (though it's always a good idea to document your request). Just tell your employer what your disability is and why you need an accommodation.

What laws prohibit workplace harassment?

The same federal laws that protect employees from discrimination also prohibit harassment. This means that you are protected from harassment only if your employer is subject to the federal anti-discrimination laws. For example, if you work for an employer that only has 15 employees, your employer does not have to comply with the federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on age-so you are not protected from harassment based on your age.

Can a prospective employer run a background check on me?

Yes, within limits. A prospective employers doesn't have the right to dig into all of your personal affairs, and generally shouldn't be investigating things that have no bearing on your ability to do the job. However, a prospective employers certainly has the right to verify the information on your resume and/or application by, for example, checking to make sure that you hold the degrees, licenses, and certifications you claim to have, and calling former employers to confirm that you really did work for them.

Can my employer require me to take a drug test?
It depends on the laws of your state. Although most states allow employers to require job applicants to submit to drug testing, some states limit an employer's right to require current employees to take a drug test. Some states allow employers to test employees generally, but most impose some restrictions-for example, that the employer may test only employees who work in certain safety-sensitive positions, employees who have been in workplace accidents, or employees who the employer reasonably suspects of illegal drug use. To find out whether your state has a drug-testing law, contact your state department of labor.

Can my employer monitor my Internet surfing?
Yes. Technology exists that allows employers to track the sites employees visit-and how much time they spend there. Although employers should inform their employees about any Internet rules, and monitoring systems they use, employers generally have the right to monitor what employees do on the company’s computer system.

The Morales Law Firm would like to thank NOLO's Enclyclopedia of Everyday Law for sharing this information with us. 


Tags: California, background check, jury, work rights