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The era of staying silent while experiencing unfair treatment from an employer is long gone. Or, at least, it should be.
However, there are several situations that can occur at your workplace and you either don’t really see the wrongful actions or you’re too afraid to speak up.
We are here to empower you to claim your rights.
Why it’s important to know and exercise your workplace rights
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibility of getting fired or upsetting your employer, but having to face unfair treatment in the workplace time and again is far worse.
The government and the law have given you rights as an employee for you to be able to protect yourself from workplace issues that put your mental and/or physical health in danger, as well as issues that might lead to unfair dismissal.
You spend almost half of your life working. You have a responsibility to yourself to make sure that you don’t spend that time feeling miserable in a toxic work environment.
Some employers think they have power over you because they can always leverage dismissal or other harmful actions, but your rights are protected by the government, the law, the union, organizations, and other relevant forces that will help you get your justice.
According to the Fair Work Commission, workplace rights include:
- receiving a benefit or having a role or responsibility under a workplace law (such as the Fair Work Act 2009), a workplace instrument (such as a modern award or enterprise agreement), or an order made by an industrial body
- starting or taking part in a process or proceeding under a workplace law or instrument, such as taking court action
- being able to make a complaint or inquiry about your employment.
- Not being discriminated against
How to determine if a situation requires action or not
Not everything we want to do is well within our rights, so it’s important to be able to make the distinction between a right and a mistake.
There are some situations where the employer is right to apply penalties, disciplinary actions, or even dismissal. These include:
- Repeated absenteeism,
- Poor performance on the job,
- Prolonged sick leave,
- Infringement upon rules and policies,
- Bad, abusive or dangerous behaviour,
- Violation of the employment agreements,
- Inability to fulfill agreed-upon responsibilities.
If you fall under any of these categories, you won’t be able to submit a valid complaint.
However, the game changes if the employer claims that one of these situations is true when, in reality, it wasn’t actually true for you. In that case, it’s time to take action.
To determine if a workplace situation requires you to exercise your rights, let’s take a look at the general protections.
Australia’s Fair Work Commission has put together the relevant information to clarify the aspects surrounding workplace issues, general protections, adverse action, and more.
At your workplace, you should feel protected:
- To exercise your rights,
- To associate,
- Against discrimination,
or know that you will get help in case you experience unfair treatment.
FWC has put in place general protections to protect employees from adverse action, sham contracting, violation of workplace rights, and dismissal because of temporary absence due to illness or injury.
“An adverse action occurs when an employer behaves in a way that puts an individual or a group of people at a disadvantage as far as equal employment opportunities go.”
Essentially, it’s about any situation where your employer has done something that is at your disadvantage and is protected by the general protections.
- Your employer can’t dismiss you, deny promotion, or act against your agreed-upon benefits and workplace rights because of your race, age, gender, pregnancy/maternity leave, disability, political opinions etc.)
- Your employer can’t proceed with any harmful measures when or after you try to exercise your rights based on any unfair treatment you think you may experience. That includes making a complaint about a colleague or the employer, taking leave, or seeking help for the issue at hand.
Let’s go more in-depth in different workplace issues that can occur.
For example, cases of women on maternity leave being unfairly dismissed are common. This severely violates employee rights, as well as other situations where your characteristics played a role in decision-making.
We strongly advise taking action towards justice immediately in case of discrimination. You could be rehired, promoted, or reassigned to the initial job. In some cases, the compensations for this type of adverse action can be significant.
Health and safety
Your employer should have clear policies in place to ensure the utmost health and safety procedures for you. You should be made aware from the very beginning of the possible health dangers and how the employer is taking measures to reduce them as much as possible.
Your employer should offer relevant training, equipment, and instructions to ensure a good work environment.
If you notice anything that comes against that, you are well within your rights to file a complaint. You shouldn’t have to work in unsafe conditions.
This is another severely unfair treatment and, unfortunately, quite common. When you got hired, you and your employer have agreed upon a fixed compensation. You have every right to receive it if you’re holding up your end of the deal.
You should receive at least the minimum wage (of course, you should receive the exact amount that’s stated in your contract), compensation for overtime work, and any benefits that your employer has agreed to offer.
Seek assistance if this situation occurs. And remember: it’s illegal to be dismissed because of filing a complaint.
Your contract should say exactly what type of employment situation you are in. The employer can’t hire you as an employee and have the contract stating that you are, in fact, an independent contractor. Additionally, they are not allowed to fire you in order to work with you as an independent contractor, doing the same work.
What can you do in case of workplace issues?
Firstly, assess the situation carefully. Try doing it as objectively as possible, taking into consideration your responsibilities, your performance, and your behavior, as well as your employer’s.
Are you feeling discriminated against?
Are you feeling not protected enough to speak your mind?
Do you have a clear claim to make, but you feel afraid?
Think about these answers in order to outline a course of action. Even though the Fair Work Commission provides protective measures, workplace rights aren’t always clear-cut. They can be interpreted as your disadvantage in case the employer can defend themselves or provide proof against you.
If that happens, you need to seek legal advice or assistance in what you should do.
Beyond the protection the government and the law give employees, you have the power and the responsibility to protect your health, your pride, and your well-being.
Even though the job market is experiencing ups and downs, especially during a pandemic, the cost of staying in an environment that severely harms you or treats you unfairly will be far greater in the long run.
Have the courage to step up for yourself, demand your workplace rights, and face employers that don’t value you as they should. You are a human being, not a disposable object.
By Gary Pinchen.