Your Rights at Work: Legal Facts You Need to Know

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On Saturday, April 5th, during Find & Follow Your Passion: A FindSpark Fashion Conference at LIM College, LaDonna Lusher and Lloyd Ambinder, attorneys at Virginia and Ambinder LLP, share the most wonderful knowledge about the importance of knowing your rights as an employee, whether you are an a full-time or part-time employee, independent contractor/ freelancer, and intern (yes, you have rights as well!).  If you fit in any of these categories or you are looking for your next gig, this is for you!

Determining a Quality Internship

“Internships should provide a learning experience” explained both LaDonna and Lloyd.  If the internship is providing some sort of classroom like job shadowing another employee for one day and learning about their careers or on-the-job training about how to use a particular software that is important in your field of choice (i.e. Animation), or you have been assigned a mentor to help you during the duration of the internship, these are valuable resources that allow you to develop knowledge and skills that will prepare you for the work place, once you enter the work force.

Another factor to consider is the compensation for your work. Is it paid or unpaid? “If you are doing significant work for a company, you should be compensated.” That’s right! If you are doing work that helps bring revenue into the organization or contributes to the business in a significant way, you should be paid for your work. In NY State, the minimum wage is $8.00/ hour.  If you are working more than 40 hours (full-time schedule), you deserve to be paid time and 1/2. Even if you sign the documents, those do not bind you into a contract.  If you agree not to get paid, it doesn’t really mean anything. Before you sign up for an internship, think about your decision.

Independent Contractors (or Freelancers)

Independent contractors, also known as Freelancers depending your industry, are people who are hired to perform specific tasks, and are not paid a salary. Unlike employees of a company, they are not entitled to receive benefits (healthcare, 401K, etc.) and are not entitled to sick or vacation pay.  The compensation is negotiable, so the independent contractor has some negotiation power.

If you receive a 1099 Form at the end of the year or at the beginning of the following year, it is a sign or one of the factors that you worked as an independent contractor. Therefore, you must pay your taxes at the end of the year! Also, just because an employer says you are an independent contractor, it may not apply to you. You could be working as an employee, but be paid as a freelancer. Read the contract very carefully before you sign it or seek legal advice.

Something good to know: If you are working as an independent contractor or freelancer, “you are allowed to work for competitors.”  If there’s a clause in your contract that says you cannot work for another company, that is a negative sign about them. Your are “independent” so you can work for whoever you want to work for.

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As an Employee…

As an employee, you are either compensated on a salary or hourly rate.  You receive benefits, are entitled to sick pay or vacation paid.  By the end of the year or early the following year, you should receive a W-2 Form, which should summarize how much you made throughout the year and the taxes that were withdrawn.

Other Important Legal Things to Know

  • Arbitration Clauses: It forces you to give up your rights to sue a company. Therefore you cannot take a company/ employer to court! You will have to settle your case outside of court, with an arbitrary judge that will determine the outcome of the case. You will have to pay all the legal fees, which can disrupt your financial well being. If you want more information on arbitration, seek legal advice or consult a lawyer before signing the contract.
  • At-Will Employment:  This means that a company can fire you whenever they want or you can quit whenever you want.  That’s right, you are free to go whenever you want to go and if they want to let you go, they will and they can! The “two weeks” rule is a business etiquette. All the employment contracts I have encountered throughout my job search have that clause in the contract.
  • Severance Package: a severance package is usually benefits and compensation an employee receives when they leave a company.  Before you sign a severance package, read it very carefully or seek legal advice. It may contain legal clauses that may not allow you leave the company when you want or may bind you to something you do not want.
  • Social Media Rules: “Don’t post anything about your job on [Social Media, and] don’t complain about your boss on Facebook [either],” explained LaDonna and Lloyd.  Everything on social media is public information. Also, they suggested to not friend anyone you work with on Facebook, but only add them on LinkedIn.
  • Unemployment: Only applies to people who were laid off by a company. If you were fired, you are not entitled to unemployment benefits.
  • Company Property: When you work for a company, you are subject to its policies and procedures, which are found in the Employee Handbook. “DO NOT TAKE COMPANY PROPERTY, EVER!” advises Lloyd. “Don’t even email it to yourself,” they continued.  Anything on the computer assigned to you is also company property. Don’t check your personal email there, and don’t use business email for personal email.  Remember that business is business, and personal is personal. Things that are considered company property are billings, logos, etc.
  • Sick Pay: If you are working in New York State, you are entitle to 5 days of sick pay.

Remember, before you sign any employment contracts or any other legal papers (i.e loans, etc.) read absolutely every single document you sign. Once you placed your signature, it is legally assumed that you read it.  Employers usually give people enough time to read these documents.  Sometimes, because people need a job, they might take whatever comes their way and not read the papers, which can result in severe consequences in their careers. Understand that whether you are an intern or full-time employee, you all have legal rights in the workplace.

We would like to know your thoughts! Let us know in the comments below!

This post is sponsored by Virginia & Ambinder, a practice committed to the representation of workers, employees, labor unions, and employee benefits plans. For over twenty years, they’ve made it their mission to assist employees who have been the victims of unlawful discrimination or harassment in the workplace or who have been underpaid or mistreated by their employers. With a strong presence in New York and New Jersey, Virginia & Ambinder, LLP offers deep and broad expertise in the areas of the law that they know best, whether you are dealing with unpaid minimum or overtime wages, retaliation, or discrimination in the workplace.

Questions about your legal rights at work? Contact Virginia & Ambinder here. Their help is free and confidential.

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