What is a Workplace-Based Civil Rights Violation?

Author: Nicki Malekadeli
Posted on: February 21, 2019

A civil rights violation pertains to an offense that takes place due to an offender’s threat or use of force against their victim. In the context of employment, it is essential for workers to understand that particular cases such as workplace discrimination can also be considered as civil rights violations.

Criminal and civil rights violations differ in many aspects. A plaintiff in a criminal, civil right violation case can file a suit against an accused individual while one can file a claim against a particular organization for civil cases. Plaintiffs will also have to gather more plausible proof for the other party to get a criminal conviction, while one can only win a civil suit by relying on the preponderance of evidence.

If you believe that your employer has violated your civil rights at work, you must first understand your rights and the possible angles in which their actions can serve as civil rights violations. Below are some aspects that tackle the types of violations in the workplace.

What are the Basic Civil Rights of Employees?

All workers have basic rights in the workplace which include the following:

  1. The right to privacy
  2. The right to receive fair compensation
  3. The right to a safe working environment
  4. Freedom from all types of discrimination and harassment
  5. Freedom from retaliation for filing a claim or complaint against an employer

The Right to Privacy

Workers in most states are entitled to workplace privacy. This covers their possessions, which may include:

  1. Handbags or briefcases
  2. Personal storage lockers
  3. Their private messages

Employees may also be entitled to privacy concerning their telephone conversations or voicemail messages. However, since they are using their employer’s computer system, their rights to privacy in both emails and Internet usage are minimal.

The Right to Receive Fair Compensation

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is one of the federal statutes that protect workers’ freedom from unfair compensation. This particular law obliges employers to give both male and female employees fair and equal compensation for work in the same company. It also requires them not to pay workers of both genders unfairly if their positions entail considerably similar skill, effort, and responsibility.

The EPA covers all types of employee compensation such as:

  1. Salary
  2. Overtime pay
  3. Bonuses
  4. Life insurance
  5. Vacation and holiday pay
  6. Benefits

The Right to a Safe Working Environment

Federal and state law requires employers to provide their workers with a safe working environment. Employees are entitled to a workplace without dangerous conditions, harmful substances, and other potential safety hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) protects workers’ rights to workplace safety, which includes the following:

  1. To receive the necessary training from their employer, which should be under OSHA standards
  2. To ask their employer for information about OSHA standards, worker injuries and sickness, job hazards, and their rights to a safe workplace
  3. To ask their employer to rectify any safety hazards or violations
  4. To file a complaint with OSHA regarding possible guideline violations or extreme hazards

Freedom from All Types of Discrimination and Harassment

Treating an individual differently and negatively because of a particular factor constitutes discrimination. Federal law forbids employers and other multiple entities to discriminate against a worker based on the following factors:

  1. Skin color, race, or national origin
  2. Gender
  3. Disability
  4. Age
  5. Pregnancy
  6. Medical background or genetic information
  7. Religious beliefs

Some statutes also give protection to specific rights, alongside the basic right to fair and just treatment in the workplace. Numerous workers are part of “protected classes,” which are comprised of groups that have been refused employment opportunities throughout history due to non-job related characteristics such as age, disability, and gender, among others.

Federal law also deems gender-based harassment against employees as unlawful. The following acts can constitute this type of harassment:

  1. Sexual harassment
  2. Requests for sexual favors
  3. Other forms of physical and verbal harassment that have sexual undertones
  4. Derogatory comments about an employee’s gender

However, recurring or serious workplace harassment is only illegal if it either causes a hostile work environment or leads to an adverse decision regarding one’s employment.

Freedom from Employer Retaliation

When a worker reports a particular violation of the law committed by their employer, they are referred to as a whistleblower. Various federal and state laws give protection to whistleblowers against employer retaliation for filing a complaint or reporting a violation.

Protection for workers who oppose their employer’s creation of environmental and work-based safety and health risks is included in federal statutes such as the Clean Air Act and the Compensation and Liability Act. On the other hand, common anti-whistleblower discrimination rulings in most states protect employees from retaliation.

If workers hold a good-faith belief that their employer is violating the law, then the statutes above can give them protection from retaliation. They should also file a complaint to their employer or a federal agency, or perform any of the following in terms of state law:

  1. Decline to take part in the violation; or
  2. Lend assistance to an official inquiry into the violation

What are Some Examples of Civil Rights Violations?

Employers can commit civil rights violations regarding workplace safety, employee treatment, and privacy. The following actions for each of the circumstances mentioned above can be regarded as civil rights violations:

  1. Inadequate safety equipment
  2. Psychologically offensive or derogatory jokes, aggressive comments, and confrontational behavior based on one’s age, gender, national origin, and religious beliefs, among others
  3. No job promotion or pay raise based on one’s ethnicity, religious beliefs, and gender
  4. Employers reading their workers’ incoming and outgoing email messages
  5. Employers listening to their workers’ phone calls without prior notice

How are Cases of Civil Rights Violations Filed Against Employers?

Before filing a claim against your employer for a possible civil rights violation, you must first know whether or not they have violated a protected right. If they did, then you can decide to take any of the following options:

Filing a Claim with the Government

Filing a civil rights violation complaint with the federal government or your state is one possible option that you can take for most of these cases. When you file a claim, it will typically prompt an agency-conducted inquiry into your allegations. This can also allow the government to carry out additional legal action on your behalf. The federal government or your state may also handle your complaint depending on the facts and allegations covered in your case.

If you choose to file a civil rights violation case against your employer, you will have to file it with the government before you can pursue any private lawsuit. This rule applies to several types of civil rights cases.

Filing a Private Lawsuit

You can also file a private civil rights lawsuit against your employer. Filing it in a federal or a state court will be one of the first factors that you have to consider, should you choose to file your claim. You can make this decision on your own or let a statute relevant to your case determine your choice of action. The plaintiff will file the complaint with the court for the case to start regardless of the court that would handle it.

File Your Civil Rights Lawsuit with the Help of a Civil Rights Discrimination Lawyer

If you decide to sue your employer for civil rights discrimination in the workplace, it is not advisable to pursue this type of case on your own. Civil right violation cases can be complicated to settle without proper legal representation. It is best to speak with an expert civil rights discrimination attorney first before filing a legal complaint in court.

Mesriani Law Group offers free consultations with civil rights lawyers who are adept in representing a wide variety of clients in the fields of employment law and personal injury. Our team will make sure that you will obtain fair compensation from your employer for their unethical actions against you.