Know Your Employee Rights!

By Attorney Daphne E. Barbee-Wooten

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Attorney Daphne E. Barbee-Wooten practices employment and civil rights law in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is a published author and videographer, with many books and articles to her credit. She received her Juris Doctor from the University of Washington-Seattle and a B.A. Degree in Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Hawaii NAACP 2014, along with her husband. She received the 2016 Civil Rights Attorney award from Sisters Empowering Hawaii. She is also a member of the African American Film Festival committee at the Honolulu Art Museum.

A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.” - A.Phillip Randolph


Asa Philip Randolph was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, the American labor movement, and socialist political parties. He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly African-American labor union in the United States.


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As an attorney I am astounded that many people do not know that they have certain rights at work. For example if you are sexually harassed or racially harassed, you have the right to tell your supervisor to put an end to the harassment.  Most employers have EEO counselors and human resource employees should address these issues.  If the employer does not stop the harassment then you have a right to file a charge with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your State Civil Rights Commission for harassment. 


Once a charge is filed, an investigation will begin into the employment practices.  If the harassment is verified by an independent investigation, an employee has the option of getting a right to sue letter and hiring a lawyer to sue the employer or having the Agency negotiate a settlement or mediation with the employer.


If an employee works for the federal government and is fired for complaining about harassment and Civil Rights violations or even safety violations at work, the employee has a right to file a retaliation complaint and to file a complaint with the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) for reprisal and whistle blowing in addition to the EEOC for discrimination.

In the federal government, discrimination is prohibited for race, sex, ancestry, religion, pregnancy, equal pay, disability, age, and retaliation. State’s such as Hawaii, have additional grounds for discrimination such as being a victim of domestic violence, arrest and court records, sexual orientation and retaliation for filing a worker’s compensation claim. If you are pregnant, an employer cannot fire you merely because you are pregnant.  The employer also has to give you pregnancy leave and maternity leave once the baby is born.  When an employee is able to return to work, the employer must allow a return to work.

If you are an employee and injured on the job, you have the right to ask for worker’s compensation to cover any lost wages and medical treatment.
You will have to file a claim with the State Workers Compensation office.

If you are fired, forced to quit or laid off you should file a claim with the State Unemployment office. 


It is important to document all complaints in writing.  Often the supervisor or employer will say the employee never complained. If you have a complaint in writing and it was sent to the employer by email, hand delivery or by mail, they cannot deny that they were placed on notice about your complaint. 

Exercising your rights as an employee is very important. Unions can also assist you and provide additional grounds to complain about suspensions or terminations, in a grievance procedure. If the Unions fail to assist a covered employee, a claim against the Union for lack of representation may also be filed. 

An employee has rights to paid wages. Paid wages must be at least minimum wages. Overtime work should be paid. Most States have a wage and hour agency. You can file a complaint with either the State or file a complaint with the federal office Department of Labor, wage and hour division.

If you or a loved one such as spouse, parents, and children has a serious illness, you may also take leave from your employment under the Family Medical Leave Act. If you are injured you may also take what is called Temporary Disability Leave. The employer can not punish you for exercising your right to these leaves by termination or threatening suspension or termination. 

Know Your Rights.  Be Educated and Protected!