10 things your employer might not tell you.

Author:Baskerville, Dawn M.
Position:Employee rights
 
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The ABCs of surviving in corporate America in the '90s are simple: Be flexible. Be prepared. Be informed. But nowadays, it is particularly tough for even the savviest of professionals to embrace this credo. In the past, doing a good job was enough. But today, if you want to keep your job, you must also be a skilled negotiator. There's no doubt about it, the rules of the game governing corporate behavior are changing.

Understanding your rights and limitations in the workplace will help protect what's rightfully yours. Adopting a "let's make a deal" attitude regarding your employment contract, benefits package and job responsibilities can also help you shape the conditions under which you work. Your company's employee handbook, as well as federal and state legislation, outlines your rights and restrictions regarding benefits, privacy and job security; but the rules are constantly being rewritten.

To help you keep up with the changes, BLACK ENTERPRISE invited experts to discuss 10 workplace issues you should know about:

Q: We're pregnant. What are my employee rights as an expectant mom or dad?

A: Since the beginning of the year, great strides have been made in this area of employee benefits. And the most sweeping changes to date are connected with the newly signed Family and Medical Leave Act, the nation's first federally mandated parental and family leave policy.

Only 13 states and the District of Columbia now have any type of parental leave policy on their books. And nationally, maternity leave provisions have been set by companies' individual disability leave stipulations. But with the implementation of the act as early as Aug. 5, employees working for companies with 50 or more on staff will be eligible for the following:

* Up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to both sexes during any 12-month period for the birth or adoption of a child or the placement of a foster child. This time must also be offered for your own care or the care of a seriously ill child, spouse or parent.

* Full health care benefits throughout the leave, just as if you were still working. But, while your boss is required to provide you with health coverage during your leave, "he may be able to recover any premiums he paid on your behalf during that time should you decide not to return," says Patricia DiLieto, research associate at A. Foster Higgins Inc., a New York City-based management consulting firm specializing in employee benefits.

* Reinstatement to your former position, or its equivalent, once your leave ends.

But there are stipulations. "Your employer can require you to apply any accured paid leave--vacation, sick or other personal or paid time--to all or part of your leave," says DiLieto. Also, an employee is covered only if he or she worked for at least one year and for a minimum of 1,250 hours during that one-year period (about 25 hours per week) before requesting a leave.

If the federal law doesn't apply to you because of your company's size or your length or number of hours of service, you may still qualify for some leave under a separate state law. Contact your state's Department of Labor for details.

Q: I think my employer has invaded my privacy. How can I be sure?

A: In an effort to protect their property and competitiveness, some employers-- though it's not often discussed--are crossing a fine line and invading the privacy of their workers. Monitoring calls, searching lockers or scrutinizing computer files are just some of the most flagrant abuses. Wherever you work, the general assumption should be that Big Brother is watching. How you handle this depends on your company's policies, your job responsibilities and the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Generally, it's within an employer's rights to monitor business-related phone calls to or from the office. Employers "can also conduct office searches if there's a reasonable basis for suspecting a worker of wrongdoing. However, the search should be confined to nonpersonal areas of the office," says Steven Mitchell Sack, a New York City-based labor attorney and author of The Employee Rights Handbook: Answers to Legal Questions from Interview to Pink Slip (Facts on File, New...

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