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Six Ways People Get Employment Rights Wrong

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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 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.

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

Read on for six common misconceptions about employee rights.

You think: Your employer can't fire you without good cause.

Ramos says, "If you're employed in an at-will employment state, you can be fired for just about anything. 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 think: 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. States Ramos, "I've managed people, and I've had some doing the 'same' job. 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 says.

You think: 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.

Ramos explains, "Most of the cases involving a pay reduction are driven by the financial performance of a business. 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."

You think: Your emails are your private property.

Emails you send using company servers or equipment are company property. Ramos reveals, "Today, most employers have policies around that issue. 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 think: 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 for unemployment. Ramos says, "If you've been fired for cause, most employers will contest your application for unemployment. And even if your employer doesn't contest it, the state still may decide to 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.

You think: Your employer can't snoop in your desk or office.

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

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.

Ramos concludes, "People really should read their employee handbooks. 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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