What you need to know about your employee rights
As an employee, you have rights that are protected by local, state, and federal laws. Employers cannot discriminate against you on the basis of your age, sex, race, religion, or national origin. You are entitled to a workplace free of sexual or other harassment, and you have to be paid for all work you perform, with a higher overtime rate for all hours over 40 in any work week.
Various federal statutes and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) prohibit sex discrimination in the form of unequal pay, failure to promote qualified candidates, pregnancy discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment. In 2006, the WLAD was amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
Unfortunately, many government agencies responsible for enforcing age and race discrimination, sexual harassment, minimum wage and overtime, and other employment laws are unable to monitor all employers and enforce these laws. Sometimes a lawsuit is your only recourse for achieving justice.
For certain employment discrimination claims under federal law, you must first file a charge with a state or federal agency before you can file the claim in court. The deadline for filing such a charge is typically within 300 days of the unlawful discrimination. If you fail to file a charge with one of these agencies, you may be forever barred from bringing the claim before a judge or jury. SGB can represent you in this process and ensure that your claims are preserved.
Some companies have procedures for reporting discrimination or harassment in the workplace. If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination or harassment, you should follow the procedures outlined by the company and document your actions in writing. This step is often required before you can file a lawsuit, and it also helps create a “paper trail” of what has occurred. Similarly, if you are a member of a union, you should consult with your union representative about filing a grievance to challenge the adverse action taken against you.
If your working conditions have become so intolerable due to harassment or a hostile work environment, you may be able to resign and still preserve your claims for wrongful termination and “constructive discharge” against your employer. However, if you are considering quitting your job, we strongly advise that you speak to an experienced employment lawyer first.
If you would like consult with an attorney about your case, it is helpful to gather any documents you have related to your employment, e.g. pay stubs, policy manuals, employment contracts, termination papers, etc. These documents are often critical in evaluating a potential case.
- Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I)
- Understanding my rights as an employee (Washington State Assoc. for Justice)
- Washington State Human Rights Commission
- Casa Latina (assistance for Latino workers)
- Legal Voice (assistance for sexual assault and sexual discrimination)
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