Employee Rights at a Startup
As a human resource professional at a new business, you are in the unique position of being able to shape company policies. Your actions and performance will have a direct impact on the development and success of the new business. If this is your employer’s first solo business venture, you will also serve as part of the "beta" group in determining what to do and what not to do with new employees. As such, it’s important that you know employee rights, and address concerns as they come up.
This can be especially true with safety-related situations. If you believe that safety rights are being violated, chances are your employer is unaware of the situation, and is likely not intentionally being negligent. By addressing your concerns with your boss, you will help yourself, your employer, your co-workers, and the business. Here is a brief overview of your rights related to dangerous workplace scenarios.
As someone in HR, note that your employees have the legal right to refuse to work if they feel that an existing workplace hazard is putting their lives in danger. In order for an event to be classified as an imminent danger, all three of the following circumstances must exist:
- Situational urgency prohibits the employee from taking corrective action any other way.
- Your employer will not or cannot fix the problem.
- The employee thinks that he or she will be killed or severely injured if he or she continues working.
Contact your state’s Department of Labor for information about specific rights related to imminent danger in the workplace if you’re not familiar with them. Some states allow the employee to refuse to work even if the situation doesn’t meet the imminent danger threshold.
When to Take Action
If there is a dangerous situation present at work, but it doesn’t necessarily rise to the standard of imminent danger, notify your employer immediately. As you are addressing the concerns of employees, your employer should be open to take care of it. It’s probable that the employer wasn’t aware of the hazard, and will work with you to remedy it.
If you have addressed the danger with your employer, but there is a refusal to fix the problem, or your employer retaliates against you for complaining about it, you and the affected employees can contact the Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration (OSHA) by filing a complaint with them. It is illegal for an employer to take punitive action against an employee who is asserting their rights, and OSHA will address the situation with them. And, in fact, this situation allows employers a chance to address potentially unsafe working conditions before someone gets injured. However, this is an extreme measure and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
According to many lawyers, if an employee is injured at work, regardless of the reason, they should file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits right away. This will ensure that any associated medical bills will be covered, and that the employee will have a higher chance of receiving compensation for lost wages. In many states, the employee will receive increased compensation if the injury you received at work was due to workplace safety violations. Gemma Law, a group of personal injury attorneys based in Rhode Island, has a website with some Rhode Island specific information regarding workers’ compensation. The site also contains a lot of resources that are worth reviewing regardless of where you reside. If your employer attempts to persuade employees not to file a claim, or threatens them with punitive actions, you, as a human resources professional, will be the employees' pillar of support.
As a human resource specialist in a new business, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the future growth of the company. By understanding workers’ rights, asserting them, and voicing your concerns, you are doing your part to create a safe and thriving workplace.
Nik Donovic is an offsite content advocate at Consultwebs. He has worked in businesses with no HR professionals to companies with corporate human resource departments. His opinions, thoughts, and experience are summation of these experiences.