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Know your workplace rights and resolve a crisis before you get fired

Over the holidays, I made the time to read Donna Ballman's book, Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Criis Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards. I found myself screaming out to my husband: Did you know......

For instance:

  • Did you know that a hostile work environment is not illegal. Being a bully in the workplace is not illegal. 
  • Most employers are required to have workers' compensation insurance -- but not all.
  • You can be sued personally for something you do as a manager.
  • No federal law requires your employer to carry health insurance coverage for employees. However, once they do have coverage, there are requirements they must follow.

What I like about Donna's book is that it uses lots of examples of real life workplace dilemmas. Donna gives you several options for how to handle them and the consequences of choosing the different options.

My Miami Herald column today goes into more detail about workplace rights. But basically what you need to know is that most of the time, employers can fire you for any reason. So act accordingly!

What you don’t know about workplace rules could cost you your job


Most employees believe they have more rights than they really have. What they don’t know could cost them.

Employment lawyer Donna Ballman has written a new book out aimed at shedding light on the legalities of the workplace for workers.
Employment lawyer Donna Ballman has written a new book out aimed at shedding light on the legalities of the workplace for workers. (CARL JUSTE / MIAMI HERALD STAFF)


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The holidays are over, your boss is still a jerk and now you’re deciding whether to set him straight about how to treat you in 2013.

What you do next could cost you your job, shut you out of your industry for awhile or help you win a case against your employer.

As we launch into a new year, it’s an ideal time to brush up on your workplace rights.

“What you think you know about your employment rights is probably dead wrong,” says Donna Ballman, a Fort Lauderdale employee-side labor attorney and author of Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards.

If you think your boss needs a reason to fire you, you’re wrong. In every state in the nation, with the exception of Montana, employers can fire employees for any reason or no reason at all. But you can learn strategy to help you come out ahead in career-threatening situations.

Let’s say you choose to tell your boss he’s a bully or publicly criticize his style of management. Know that not a single state has a law against workplace bullying and that your criticism could get you fired in most states.

“When you work for a private sector employer, you have no constitutional right of free speech,” says Mark Neuberger, a management-side employment attorney with Foley & Lardner in Miami. “Most workers think they do and think they can speak out, but they are wrong. They get fired and learn the hard way that they might have been better off addressing their issues differently.”

Knowing your workplace rights starts even before you land the job.

Prospective employees are getting tripped up in the hiring process by answering questions on job applications and in interviews without knowing what’s legally allowed. An employer isn’t supposed to ask questions that reveal a protected status such as age or race. If an employer asks, “What race are you?” or “Do you have any kids?” you should answer truthfully, Ballman says, but keep a copy of the application or make a note of the inappropriate question.

Also, an employer isn’t supposed to do credit checks without your written permission. If you have bad credit, be ready to explain your situation. “They are supposed to give you a copy of the report and an opportunity to respond,” Ballman says.

Once hired, new employees face another quandary. They often sign paperwork without carefully reading what’s shoved in front of them. Big mistake.

“You should understand what you are agreeing to, and assume it will be enforced,” Ballman says. “And, if you are bound by an agreement, make sure you have a copy.”

Increasingly, non-compete agreements are at the center of workplace conflict. By signing one, if you leave or get fired, you may be forfeiting your right to work in your industry for a year or more after you stop working for this employer.

Ballman has discovered employers are slipping non-compete language into employee handbooks and job applications. Sometimes they are even told these agreements are never enforced. “Don’t sign anything if you aren’t sure what you are agreeing to or if you can’t live with it,” Ballman says. “Florida is one of the worst in the nation. Non-competes are being misused to bully employees into staying in terrible workplaces.”