4 lessons in workplace rights - Firstline
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4 lessons in workplace rights
Understand your workplace rights—whether you're a team member or manager—in four lessons from top employment attorneys.


2. Your boss can monitor you

In many cases, your employers can monitor your behavior in the workplace. State laws may dictate the specific details of monitoring that's allowed, but your employer may be able to search your locker in your workplace, review the email you send from your practice email account and use video surveillance to monitor the practice. They most likely can't, however, record in places like changing rooms or restrooms.

3. Your practice's policies count

"When you cross the front door of a private employer, the Constitution, in many respects, stops right there, and the company's policies start," Weiss says. "And those policies are often stricter than the law."

This might seem strange, until you recognize your boss has to safeguard his or her business against unlawful behavior. So they may censor your speech and they may invade your privacy to protect the business.

Practice policies may also dictate some of your expectations for privacy in the workplace. For example, Weiss says your practice policy may dictate how many personal phone calls team members can make or whether—and for how long—you can use practice computers for personal use.

"That's why having good, clear policies is so important," Weiss says. "The first thing you want to do if you're an employee is read the policies. Because if something goes wrong, you want to be able to say that you followed the policies."

Weiss says your policy manual may also offer other valuable information, such as your reporting process when you're upset about an issue. It's very important, he says, to be able to demonstrate you've followed the practice's policies. It's the first and highest standard you want to meet.

Your job description also yields important information about the employer's expectations, and Weiss recommends reviewing it often to make sure you're meeting all of the requirements of the job. One approach, he says, is to use a job description as an audit list to make sure you're meeting your boss's expectations. Then, as you complete assigned tasks, use a simple query, such as, "Is there anything else you want me to do? Have I accomplished this task?"

The goal, he says, is to change your attitude about your boss from an "us vs. them" perspective to instead viewing your manager as a customer you're trying to satisfy—and maybe even delight—by making yourself indispensable. And managers, he says, should also be reviewing job descriptions to manage their employees and hold them accountable.

4. Teamwork may trump technical skills

Keep in mind, there are a number of skills managers expect that may not be listed in your job description. These include good communication with coworkers and customers and the ability to work together.

"Someone who's not working effectively with colleagues and customers is generally not a good performer," Weiss says. "A collaborative workforce is often as important as a profitable one."

In other words, high technical skills and following the exact letter of your job description may meet some requirements, but they also may fall short of your employer's expectations.

This also means you should embrace the review process. A good review can offer documentation of your good performance, and a review with improvement needed should offer you a road map to reach a place where you can satisfy your manager's expectations.

"You want to embrace all of the standards set for you and exceed those standards, and you want to have good communication with your manager so he or she acknowledges that you've met and exceeded those standards," Weiss says.

Tear down barriers

If you're a manager, your secret employer defense is effective compliance training. Just remember, Weiss says, that all discrimination, harassment and other workplace training programs aren't built the same. He recommends choosing programs that have already been reviewed by government agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice, in the context of settlement and litigation consent decrees.

For employees, you're expected to work toward a safe, respectful and productive workplace, Weiss says. This may mean not focusing too hard on one specific conflict. Instead, remember you have many common interests with your coworkers and managers in the workplace. When everyone understands the boundaries, you'll enjoy a more productive workplace.

Portia Stewart is a freelance writer in Lenexa, Kan. Send questions to



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