Your Rights @ Work

Your Right to Organize at Work!

Did you know there are federal laws in place to protect workers interested in forming a Union? It’s true. You may be surprised to learn that many activities, some even on company property, are completely protected by our federal government.

  • You have the right to distribute Union flyers and brochures in non-work areas during breaks and lunch.
  • You have the right to wear Union buttons, stickers, T-shirts and hats to show your colors.
  • You have the right to sign a USW membership card and demand company recognition of the Union.
  • You have the right to petition and join together with co-workers to protest unfair treatment or demand improvements in wages, hours or working conditions.
  • You have the right to organize fellow employees, support the Union, and distribute literature and membership cards to be signed.
  • You have the right to file complaints against your company.
  • You have the right to participate in meetings to discuss joining a Union.

United States National Labor Relations Act
Section 7 “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representation of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining …” 

What Your Boss Can’t Do

  • Your boss cannot favor employees who oppose the Union over ones who support it. This includes promotions and special treatment.
  • Your boss cannot threaten to close your place of employment or take away benefits because you and co-workers support joining a Union.
  • Your boss cannot promise raises or other favorable treatment if you oppose joining a Union.
  • Your boss cannot ask you your opinion of the Union.
  • You cannot be fired, laid-off, disciplined, harassed, transferred or reassigned for supporting a union.
    United States National Labor Relations Act

Section 8 (a)
“It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer …to interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed in Section 7…”

Federal Employment Law

The US Department of Labor provides an excellent overview of Federal Employment Laws including important wage and hour provisions; health, retirement, and workers compensation; and other workplace standards online at http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/index.htm  

Your Right to a Safe and Healthy Workplace

Workers are entitled to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm. To help assure a safe and healthful workplace, OSHA also provides workers with the right to:

  • Ask OSHA to inspect their workplace;
  • Use their rights under the law without retaliation and discrimination;
  • Receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace. The training must be in a language you can understand;
  • Get copies of test results done to find hazards in the workplace;
  • Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses;
  • Get copies of their medical records;

Who OSHA Covers

Private Sector Workers

Most employees in the nation come under OSHA’s jurisdiction. OSHA covers private sector employers and employees in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. jurisdictions either directly throughFederal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state program. State-run health and safety programs must be at least as effective as the Federal OSHA program. To find the contact information for the OSHA Federal or State Program office nearest you, see the Regional and Area Offices map.

State and Local Government Workers

Employees who work for state and local governments are not covered by Federal OSHA, but have OSH Act protections if they work in a state that has an OSHA-approved state program. Four additional states and one U.S. territory have OSHA approved plans that cover public sector employees only. This includes: Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and the Virgin Islands. Private sector workers in these four states and the Virgin Islands are covered by Federal OSHA.

Federal Government Workers

Federal agencies must have a safety and health program that meet the same standards as private employers. Although OSHA does not fine federal agencies, it does monitor federal agencies and responds to workers’ complaints. The United States Postal Service (USPS) is covered by OSHA.

Not covered by the OSH Act:

  • Self-employed;
  • Immediate family members of farm employers that do not employ outside employees; and
  • Workplace Hazards regulated by another Federal agency (for example, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Coast Guard).

Workers can ask OSHA to Inspect their Workplace

Workers, or their representatives, may file a complaint and ask OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA standards. A worker can tell OSHA not to let their employer know who filed the complaint. It is a violation of the Act for an employer to fire, demote, transfer or discriminate in any way against a worker for filing a complaint or using other OSHA rights.

You can file a complaint onlinedownload the form [En Espanol*] and mail or fax it to the nearest OSHA office; or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Most complaints sent in on line may be resolved informally over the phone with your employer. Written complaints that are signed by a worker or their representative and submitted to the closest OSHA office are more likely to result in an on-site OSHA inspection.

When the OSHA inspector arrives, workers and their representatives have the right to:

  • Go along on the inspection.
  • Talk privately with the OSHA inspector.
  • Take part in meetings with the inspector and the employer before and after the inspection is conducted.

Where there is no union or employee representative, the OSHA inspector must talk confidentially with a reasonable number of workers during the course of the investigation.

When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA may issue citations and fines. A citation includes methods an employer may use to fix a problem and the date by when the corrective actions must be completed. Workers only have the right to challenge the deadline for when a problem must be resolved. Employers, on the other hand, have the right to contest whether there is a violation or any other part of the citation. Workers or their representatives must notify OSHA that they want to be involved in the appeals process if the employer challenges a citation.

If you send in a complaint requesting an OSHA inspection, you have the right to find out the results of the OSHA inspection and request a review if OSHA decides not to issue citations.

Employer Responsibilities

Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Employers MUST provide their employees with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and follow all relevant OSHA safety and health standards. Employers must find and correct safety and health problems. OSHA further requires employers to try to eliminate or reduce hazards first by making changes in working conditions rather than just relying on masks, gloves, ear plugs or other types of personal protective equipment (PPE). Switching to safer chemicals, enclosing processes to trap harmful fumes, or using ventilation systems to clean the air are examples of effective ways to get rid of or minimize risks.

Employers MUST also:

  • Inform employees about hazards through training, labels, alarms, color-coded systems, chemical information sheets and other methods.
  • Keep accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Perform tests in the workplace, such as air sampling required by some OSHA standards.
  • Provide hearing exams or other medical tests required by OSHA standards.
  • Post OSHA citations, injury and illness data, and the OSHA poster in the workplace where workers will see them.
  • Notify OSHA within 8 hours of a workplace incident in which there is a death or when three or more workers go to a hospital.
  • Not discriminate or retaliate against a worker for using their rights under the law.

You Cannot be Punished or Discriminated against for using your OSHA Rights

The OSH Act protects workers who complain to their employer, OSHA or other government agencies about unsafe or unhealthful working conditions in the workplace or environmental problems. You cannot be transferred, denied a raise, have your hours reduced, be fired, or punished in any other way because you used any right given to you under the OSHA Act. Help is available from OSHA for whistleblowers

If you have been punished or discriminated against for using your rights, you must file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged reprisal for most complaints. No form is required, but you must send a letter or call the OSHA Area Office nearest you to report the discrimination (within 30 days of the alleged discrimination).

What to do if there is a Dangerous Situation at Work

If you believe working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful, we recommend that you bring the conditions to your employer’s attention, if possible.

You may file a complaint with OSHA concerning a hazardous working condition at any time. However, you should not leave the worksite merely because you have filed a complaint. If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm, there is not sufficient time for OSHA to inspect, and, where possible, you have brought the condition to the attention of your employer, you may have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which you would be exposed to the hazard.

Information on this website and any additional information provided by Fight Back Pittsburgh organizers is provided for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.  Fight Back Pittsburgh is not a law firm, we do not provide legal advice and we do not enter into attorney-client relationships with anyone.  We do our best to ensure that information on this site is accurate and up-to-date but laws change from time to time and we cannot guarantee that this information is always accurate.