Employee Rights and Responsibilities

HR professionals must help create a work environment that honors fairness, protects individual privacy, treats all workers with dignity and respect, while at the same time allowing the business to succeed. Rights generally do not exist in the abstract.

Instead, rights are powers, privileges, or interests derived from law, nature, or tradition. Rights are offset by responsibilities, which are obligations to perform certain tasks and duties. Those obligations can be spelled out formally in a written employment contract or more likely in an employer handbook and policies disseminated to employees.

The employment relationship is affected by both formal and informal agreements. The rights and responsibilities of the employee may be spelled out in a job description, an employment contract, HR policies, or a handbook, but often they are not.

Employment at will (EAW) is a common-law doctrine stating that employers have the right to hire, fire, demote, or promote whomever they choose, unless there is a law or a contract to the contrary, and employees can quit at any time with or with- out notice. Over the past several decades, many state courts have revisited and revised EAW contractual provisions.

Employers that run afoul of EAW restrictions may be guilty of wrongful discharge, which involves the termination of an individual’s employment for reasons that are illegal or improper. Closely related to wrongful discharge is constructive discharge, which is the process of deliberately making conditions intolerable to get an employee to quit.

Due process occurs when an employer is determining if there has been employee wrongdoing and uses a fair process to give an employee a chance to explain and defend his or her actions. Due process represents ethical and respectful treatment of employees, and companies that fail to utilize such a process risk being seen as unethical. Organizational justice is a key part of due process.

High litigation costs, delays in the court system, and damage to employer–employee relationships have prompted growth in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods such as arbitration, peer review panels, ombuds, and mediation. The variety of ADR methods available to employers to resolve disputes in the employment relationship.

A workplace investigation is not an effort to prove or disprove allegations, or to determine whether allegations are true. A workplace investigation is designed to find facts and determine what happened or what is happening in a situation. An investigator for the organization has the responsibility to look beyond the simple incident or accusation to examine the situation as a whole.

An employee handbook is a physical or electronic manual that explains a company’s essential policies, procedures, and employee benefits. A sensible approach is to first develop sound HR policies and employee handbooks to communicate them and then have legal counsel review the language contained in the handbook.

Discipline is a process of corrective action used to enforce organizational rules. Training in counseling and communication skills provides supervisors and managers with the tools necessary to deal with employee performance problems, regardless of the disciplinary approaches used.

Employee discipline is defined as the regulations or conditions that are imposed on employees by management in order to either correct or prevent behaviors that are detrimental to an organization. Support from HR can help reluctant managers promptly deal with employee performance and behavioral problems.

The final disciplinary phase is termination of an individual’s employment, which might include a separation agreement and severance benefits.
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