It can be a big help if you keep track of your situation and know your rights. Some bosses take more care to be fair when workers know their rights.

Even if there's no problem at work, keep a file at home of your job evaluations, production or attendance awards, pay stubs, etc. When you have to notify your boss of something important, do it in writing and keep a copy.

If you have a problem at work, take these first steps:

  • Document the situation. Use this website to understand your rights and what complaints or charges you can file with state or federal agencies (including anonymous complaints).
  • Use this website to understand what protection you have if your boss retaliates because you spoke up. Make sure you can prove that you spoke up (write a letter or have witnesses if you talk to the foreman).
  • Consider approaching your boss if: a) he may not know that there is a problem; b) your boss has a reputation of being reasonable when handling similar issues in the past; c) he does not have a reputation of retaliating against workers who point out problems. Be ready with a suggestion of how to fix the problem. Ask when the boss will let you know what they have decided. Don’t let the boss delay so that you miss time limits to file a complaint. It is always better to have a group of co-workers raise an issue together, if possible.
  • Consider building a union with your co-workers. Do NOT tell your boss or supervisor (no matter what a nice guy he is) that you're thinking of forming a union.

We all hear about workers winning big lawsuits. In most cases, it's not so easy to win and many workers find it too expensive. Just because the law says we have rights doesn't mean that it is easy to protect our rights. Some workers are fired or harassed for standing up for their rights. Often, the law doesn't do a great job of protecting us.

The other way to think about it is that you are probably "at will" (unless you have a union) so, you don't have any protection anyway. It's not like you LOSE protection when you stand up for yourself – and you usually GAIN some legal protection.

Sometimes, bosses may believe that you have stronger protection than you really do. They may treat you more carefully when you show that you know your rights. After all, they've read the same news articles about workers winning big law suits!