The Human Resource: Know your rights, know you’re right

During two plus decades of interaction with employers and employees as a human resource professional, I have encountered countless situations in which negative or terrible results were observed simply because individuals failed to know or understand their rights.

It is a terrible situation to be in, to face a series of events or take a course of action that is wrong or dangerous based on ignorance of the laws or regulations that protect you. In most of the situations I have personally observed or became part of to remedy, one person dominated another in the workplace either through authority, bullying, or title causing another to take a course of action that was not in their own best interest but they did so because they failed to research and learn the truth about their rights in the situation. So in this article I am sharing two situations that perhaps you can relate to and see that your course of action that impacts you, your family and loved ones, your financial stability, and your future, can easily be altered when facing a workplace situation simply by learning about and knowing your rights!

At the closure of presenting an interview training for employees of an organization, one employee approached me to let me know that a peer of theirs had been in the same position for 17 years and was very upset and needed to speak with me. The employee, now 35 years old, had joined this organization right out of high school at 18 years old. She began working and in the first year experienced a personal setback with a criminal conviction of a misdemeanor. As required by the employer, she reported the matter to leadership, and the leader at the time advised her “with this conviction you can never apply for another job again.”

This directive, advice, feedback, or whatever it was at the time was absolutely inaccurate and inappropriate. The result for the employee, who at the young age was impressionable and not well educated in her rights as an employee, interpreted the comment as she may never, ever, apply for another job at the current employer or any employer ever again.

When asked why she never applied for any job anywhere, or ask anyone for guidance, she claimed that the person who told her was a high level manager and they must be right and so I believed them. This is a very difficult and sad situation to put oneself into simply by failing to take the necessary steps to learn your rights and either research or ask questions to make better decisions. After I explained her rights to her, she eventually applied for and received a promotion. Know your rights, and know you are right.

One of our clients, facing a very disruptive, disgruntled, and inappropriate employee, contacted us requesting our assistance in dealing with the person. The human resource professional was only in the profession a few years and never experienced this type of behavior. The employee was not only insubordinate and disrespectful to his peers, but also to his management, and actually was bullying the human resource professional with threats that he couldn’t be fired because he was over 40 and a minority.

The employer viewed the situation as hopeless, and felt their hands were tied and would just need to deal with the abuse, causing tremendous grief for the staff and management of the business. When I engaged the management and explored the actions, performance, and behaviors of the employee it became clear that management didn’t understand their rights of at-will employment, not to mention they had adequate if not ample documentation based on the failed performance and conduct violations of their policies to terminate the employee.

Because of the comments and behavior of the employee, the new human resource professional and management failed to research their rights for terminating an employee, and allowed this individual to damage their business day after day and month after month.

I compiled the documentation, met with the employee and management, communicated the expectations and situation, placed the employee on a 30-day performance improvement plan, and then when he failed to demonstrate any change at all the employer terminated him for continued failed work performance and conduct violations. They were very relieved for the workforce and the business, and all of this could have been avoided with proper research into the regulations to know their rights, to know they were right!

In many workplace situations, ignorance is not bliss but rather a detrimental state of mind in which you eliminate your equality in exchange for unfair treatment. You can avoid this by knowing your rights, so you know when you are right!

About Warren Cook

Warren is the President and co-founder of SymbianceHR and provides strategic oversight for service delivery, business operations, and technical guidance on consulting engagements. He is a human resources subject matter expert with over 25 years of experience as a strategic human resources business partner, project manager, and people leader across private and public sectors organizations. Warren is responsible for the strategic planning of all client consulting engagements from initial needs assessment and compliance review through delivery of customized strategic solutions that meet the client’s business goals. He has a proven track record of providing executive coaching and guidance to business leaders and human resource professionals at all levels including the C-Suite of Fortune 100 companies. Warren is also the Chief Talent Officer and cofounder of SymbianceHiRe, a Symbiance company dedicated to providing direct placement talent acquisition services and temporary and contract staffing solutions to the business community. Warren holds a B.S. in Human Resource Management, an MBA in Project Management, and a M.S. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Warren is the author of “Applicant Interview Preparation – Practical Coaching for Today.”

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