Did you know that December 10th is Human Rights Day? On this day in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), what is now the most translated document in the world.

This day led us to reflect on human rights in the workplace. It is crucial that organizations are not making choices that infringe on their employees’ human rights.

Understanding your rights as an employee or someone who manages employees is crucial to a successful and safe workplace. This will help you know when to seek help or prevent unintentionally infringing on someone’s rights. Your country or state will have detailed laws regarding your rights and the consequences for going against them. Below is a general list of human rights you and your employees have.

Diversity and inclusion in the Workplace

Every employee has the right to work for an organization that prioritizes diversity in all of its practices. Diversity is the inclusion of a wide variety of people of different races or cultures in a group or organization. It is vital that every employer and employee has an understanding of the concepts of diversity.

A workforce that is racially diverse consists of employees who are from any racial background. There should be no restriction on the type of work that can be done or compensation, based on race.

Diversity brings many perspectives to a company, which brings positive growth to individual employees and the company as a whole. Here are some specific benefits to companies with a diverse workforce:

  • Allows for a large pool of knowledge
  • Fulfills the needs of your existing customers
  • Appeal to a larger, global customer base
  • Loyal employees
  • Complies with laws surrounding diverse workplaces

Accommodations for Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into effect in 1990. It prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities with regard to several areas, such as employment and transportation. Title I of the Act “prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 

There are many free resources that are designed to educate employers on how to recruit and hire employees with disabilities. For example, Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) offers publications on the topics of inclusion recruiting and hiring individuals with disabilities, as well as online trainings that check your understanding in these areas.

The Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP) is another free source that links private companies and federal agencies with highly qualified candidates for temporary or permanent roles, in many different fields.

When it comes to accessibility in the workplace, it is more than just about the work site itself. There must be designated handicapped parking spaces, entrances and exits that accommodate wheelchairs and one-touch door opening. Other areas that must be fully accessible include:

  • Hallways
  • Stairwells/Elevators
  • Restrooms
  • Cafeteria
  • Fire alarms

Employees Who Are Pregnant

Pregnant employees are considered a protected class. They are protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in the United States. This prohibits employers from using pregnancy – current, past, or possible future – as grounds for not hiring, firing, or disciplining them.

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers may not consider an applicant’s pregnancy in hiring decisions. Interviewers and other representatives of the organization cannot ask about an applicant’s pregnancy, plans for childcare after birth, or any other related issues. If the applicant brings up the topic of their pregnancy during interview and hiring, such issues may be discussed. However, these discussions must be led by the applicant, and information gained during them cannot be used during the hiring process. Even in the case of a visibly pregnant applicant, interviewers and others who interact with the applicant during the hiring process should not comment on their pregnancy.

Pregnant workers may occasionally need accommodations to be able to perform their jobs successfully. While pregnancy itself is not considered a disability, pregnant employees who experience temporary disability due to pregnancy are entitled to accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Likewise, if an organization allows employees with other temporary disabilities to take disability leave, the same accommodation must be provided to pregnant employees. Specific pregnancy-related conditions such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia may be considered temporary disabilities and accommodations must be provided.

Some common accommodations for pregnant employees include:

  • Putting the employee on light duty.
  • Transferring the employee to a less strenuous position, if the employee requests.
  • Affording the employee temporary disability leave.
  • Provide modifications so that the employee can perform their job.
  • Other reasonable accommodations as requested by the employee.

In the United States, all employees who have worked for an organization with more than 50 employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid (or paid, if the employee has accrued it) leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employees must have worked for the organization for 12 months prior to taking the leave to qualify. Individual states and organizations have maternity leave policies that must be followed as well, so it is important to be familiar with the laws and policies that impact your specific region.

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employees may not be fired for becoming pregnant or for needing accommodations to successfully perform their jobs. They also cannot be dismissed due to conditions stemming from pregnancy that qualify for protection under the ADA.

Employees Who Identify as Members of the LGBTQ+ Community

More and more organizations, even in states where employment discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is not prohibited, are drafting mission equality statements that express commitment to equality for LGBTQ+ employees. If you are unsure whether your organization has such a statement, Human Resources can tell you and provide a copy of such a statement if it exists. If your organization does not have such a statement, consider drafting one. Guidelines for creating an effective statement can be found on the Human Rights Campaign website and through the Society for Human Resources Management.

Research shows that companies with equality statements give organizations an edge in recruiting qualified candidates and promote workplaces that are welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ people and their allies. Organizations that do not have such statements may struggle to hire the best talent, especially in states where there are no state-level protections for LGBTQ people.

This statement should include a mission and vision for promoting LGBTQ equality in the organization. It should also clearly state the organization’s values and commitment to non discrimination. It should also outline the procedure for filing a complaint and describe how such complaints are resolved.

A Safe Work Environment

Employees are legally guaranteed a safe work environment, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA is the agency that enforces safety regulations. Employers must protect workers from hazards. OSHA defines hazards that are unique to different industries. Generally, hazards include chemicals, equipment, and safety practices. Employers are required to keep records of injuries and illnesses while monitoring potential hazards. There is also a General Clause that requires employers to protect people from all known hazards. This clause is used in cases that are not specifically covered. OSHA oversees workers in state, local, and federal branches of the government as well as those in the private sector.

Employers have specific roles and duties to keep their employees safe. Some of these responsibilities include:

  • Warn employees about hazards using chemical sheets, codes, training, alarms, labels, etc.
  • Test air samples and other potential hazards.
  • Visibly post the OSHA poster, citations, injury, and illness information.
  • Provide exams or medical tests when necessary.
  • Record illness and injuries.
  • Contact OSHA within eight hours of employee death or three injuries.
  • Protect employees who report violations from retaliation.

Employees have a responsibility to report any unsafe conditions to their supervisors. They have the right to report violations to OSHA, which usually result in an inspection. Employees who report violations are legally protected from harassment and retaliation. Employees also have the right to refuse to perform tasks that they feel are too dangerous.


We hope this better familiarized you with some of you and your fellow employees’ rights in the workplace. Make sure to mention any workplace rights we didn’t include here in the comments below.

Interested in providing training on these topics/rights in the workplace? Check out our fully customizable training materials on Diversity and Inclusion, Workplace Harassment, and Safety in the Workplace.

Posted by Katelyn Roy on

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    • Thanks for these informative information and I will pass on these information to others. Time after time persons çame to me seeking assistance so I will be able to provide more information to them.

      Ivel Kerr-Mclean on

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