Employment law can be needlessly complicated. You don’t need a law degree to be an informed employee, however. While the majority of employers are transparent these days to prevent getting sued, top employee rights are often missed by the employees themselves. Don’t be exploited, become informed.

Employee rights

Job Applicants Have Rights Too

Yep, even before you start your new job, your prospective employer needs to give you certain rights. During the interview, candidates often forget it’s a two-way street; as much as you’re impressing or respecting the employer, they need to do the same for you.

In a basic sense, an employer cannot discriminate during the hiring process in terms of race, national origin, gender, pregnancy, age, disability or religion. During interviews, an employer cannot ask any personal family or racially-motivated question, nor pressure you into any of them. Dodge and report questions such as “Do you plan on having any children?” as soon as possible.

Breaks, Reasonable Working Hours and Holidays Are Mandatory

Employee break

Under health and safety laws, breaks and reasonable working hours are a requirement. This includes a rest period of at least 20 minutes to eat and hydrate if the working day exceeds 6 hours and at least one full-day off if 7 working days is completed.

Employees cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week, either, unless this is previously confirmed in writing. Read your employment contract and do not bow to pressure from your boss unless it is pre-agreed.

Holiday entitlement is required, too, no matter your industry (excluding self-employed people and Armed Forces). Depending on how many days you work a week, you’ll be entitled to different amounts of holiday.

Working off the Clock as a Non-Exempt Employee

If you’re a non-exempt employee, you must be paid for working off the clock. This isn’t necessarily staying behind now and again to help a busy shift transition, but mostly regarding being on-call or answering e-mails and calls after hours.

Jobs that require a lot of maintenance, administration or organisation at home tend to be the key culprits for this, without realising that payment is required for any extracurricular work done.

You must be paid for the time you work, even out of hours. You cannot waive this right: your employer must pay you.

You Have Social Media Rights

Yes, even if your employer doesn’t like it, you can, to a certain extent, vent about your job online. The National Labor Relations Act protects employees’ ability to discuss wages and working conditions with each other, in real life or on a social platform.

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled repeatedly that employers’ attempts to control their employees’ social media activity violated the right to engage in “protected concerted activity.” For certain jobs, especially in big corporations and customer service, straight-up calling out your company may not be the best choice, but obliquely venting or talking about the negative aspects of your job should not fall under gross misconduct by law.

You Can Talk Money with Co-Workers

Co-workers discussing salary

Despite some companies having rules that exempt any talk of wage or salary amongst employees, in most countries, this is illegal. In the United States, for example, this rule goes against the National Labor Relations Act, as it prevents workers from effectively organising via unions.

In spite of this well-established law being in place, a number of employers have rules against this – so many, in fact, that this policy has been wrongfully normalised. In essence, a company which has this rule is attempting to protect its own back in an effort to prevent questions regarding its pay structure.

Don’t feel sorry for your employer if they do this, as it’s a concerted effort to stumble unionisation.

Overall, these employee rights are often missed, but ignorance of them can lead to an exploitative work environment. As an employee, or employer, you should pay due diligence to the changing landscape of employment law, or risk being caught out.

About the Author: This post has been written by Bethan Southcombe, Head of Employment, at Howells Solicitors in Cardiff.