Knowing your workplace rights

Over the past century people have fought and died for their rights on countless occasions, and yet today most employees do not know what their rights are in the workplace. In fact very few stop to consider if they have any rights at all. It is usually only when there is a serious breach of employee rights that people question their relationship with the employer. A failure to understand workplace rights can lead to all manner of problems in the workplace and a thorough understanding of these rights can actually make the workplace a better place to be.

What rights do workers have?

Employees have many rights when at work. For example, office workers have the right to a comfortable, ergonomic workstation. A good working environment is also a right; an office should not be too cold; currently the minimum temperature is 16C, it must also be adequately lit.

Employers must supply clean drinking water and toilet facilities, and staff members have the right to a tea break if working for more than six hours. Employees also have the right to sick leave, maternity leave, paid holiday, bereavement leave, a minimum wage and fair working hours.

Employee rights exist to protect staff wellbeing and safety, and to protect their jobs, and legislation is in place to provide companies with the power to ensure that workers are performing their tasks adequately by setting out disciplinary procedures that must be complied with.

Many other rights concern employees in specific working roles. To understand these rights read the TUC’s workSMART guide and also visit the government’s Directgov website.

It is very important the all employees understand their rights. If an unscrupulous manager knows that a particular individual is oblivious to their rights they may try to take advantage of this and attempt to dismiss him or her unfairly. Employees who understand their rights are far less likely to suffer an unfair dismissal.

What if your rights are breached?

Of course, knowing what rights they have is only the first step in protecting employees; they must also know what to do if they are breached.

The first step should always be to speak with a manager. It may be that they are not aware of the situation and will be more than happy to resolve the problem. Failing this, the human resources department may be able to help. HR should act if there is a compliance breach in the workplace. Failing these options, often the only option is to speak to the Citizens Advice Bureau or a legal adviser.

Drug testing rights

Any company has the right to request that employees undergo drug testing; however, testing should always be conducted randomly and all members of staff should be treated equally.

Regardless of the type of drug test, whether it is the taking of a blood sample, hair follicle, urine sample or oral fluid testing, the company must have an agreement in place before they can test employees.

An employee always has the right to reject a drug test, but by doing so they will often be assumed guilty. This should be written into the employee contract.

If a company does not have a drug testing policy in place it cannot demand a sample from an employee. If an attempt is made to carry out a test and the employee refuses, the company has no grounds for taking disciplinary action. This is why employers should include drug testing in their employee contracts.

Stay up-to-date with legislation

An employee who has been working for the same company or in the same line of business for many years may not have kept up-to-date with current legislation. Employee rights change on a regular basis and although all companies should inform their employees of changes, many do not.

Whenever a company updates its employee handbook they inform all members of staff but many employees do not take the time to review the changes and therefore are unaware of their rights and responsibilities.