Understanding Your Rights – Labor & Employment Law
In Iowa and Nebraska, as in most states, employment is normally “employment at will.” This generally means that unless you have an employment contract or union protections, your employer has the power to fire you or treat you badly for any reason or for no reason whatsoever. However, employment laws specify that an employer can’t fire you for a reason that violates the law. These rights are sometimes called exceptions to employment at will.
In general, an employer cannot allow an employee’s inherent characteristics or the fact that the employee has complained about illegal conduct to affect decisionmaking about that employee.
Exceptions to employment at will include:
- Discrimination based on age, sex, race, color, national origin, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity
- Harassment based on any of the above characteristics
- Discrimination or harassment based on your association with someone of a different race (such as having a spouse, boyfriend, or child of another race)
- Retaliation because you have opposed or made a complaint about illegal discrimination or harassment
- Retaliation because you have done something that you are legally obligated or entitled to do
When we refer to “discrimination,” we normally mean things like being disciplined, fired, demoted, not hired, or not promoted. “Harassment” refers to work experiences other than discipline or termination that make your work experience extremely difficult. Again, those experiences need to be tied to your race, gender, age, or some other characteristic protected by law. “Retaliation” simply means an act of the employer designed to punish an employee for exercising her rights. It is retaliation if you complain of discrimination and, in response, your employer disciplines you, threatens you, or makes your life miserable.
You will lose your rights unless you take some kind of action, like filing a civil rights complaint or a lawsuit, within a reasonable time frame after something bad happens at work. Deadlines for taking action on employment law cases vary by the type of case. They can be as short as 45 days and as long as 5 years. You should consult with an attorney or take other action as soon as possible regarding your situation and relevant employment laws to make sure you are not left without a remedy.