Do Rights Work At Work?

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From Paula Deen to The Bachelor‘s Juan Pablo, there’s been a frenzy lately over TV personalities and their comments on race and sexuality getting them into trouble. A lot of people hear these types of stories and say, “I thought we had the right to free speech”, and those people are right. However, there is a difference between rights as set out by the Constitution and its amendments and the rights some employers allot their workforce. I’m not talking specifically about making controversial comments on the job and drawing negative attention, and I’m not talking about about the common sense guidelines workers have to follow – I’m talking about how the rabid competition between companies causes them to hold their employees to higher standards in the hopes to make them stand out and bring in more revenues than their competitors. Looking at every possible angle to try and maximize profitability employers disallow their employees to act a certain way, talk a certain way, dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, fraternize with co-workers, and so on in the fear that any of those things would cost them money due to picky and unrealistic consumers. Any of these rules being set forth by the government on everyday citizens would be unconstitutional and surely met with a social upheaval, but when it comes to your need to live and eat, you have to pretty much bend over and take it from your employer so you don’t lose your job.

Now let’s clarify: I’m not making the way for a childish rant about how everyone should get paid to do whatever they want and not have to follow any rules, and I’m also not going to digress about the idea that our rights are being taken away by the government. I’m pointing out that if a nation imposed the guidelines on its citizens that certain employers do with their workers that it would be categorized with Nazi Germany or any other hated totalitarian regime in history. You can burn an American flag in the street and, despite how controlling and unconstitutional some claim the government has become, you aren’t going to be disappeared by KGB type goons for it. We don’t live in a nation where everyday people are targeted for disagreeing with the government, no matter how often certain political factions may insist that’s the case. We have more rights than a lot of other nations out there, but with the job market the way it is many people are being forced into low-paying jobs that have a lot of unrealistic standards to which they hold their workers because they want to be seen as the best.

Think about the job market as it is today. A lot of people are facing economic challenges that weren’t as apparent in years past and a lot of jobs aren’t available that used to be. The service industry and its low-paying jobs that offer little to no benefits, part-time hours, and arduous shifts are among the worst in quality and sustainability of the readily available jobs out there. Restaurant workers, in particular, in America are among the lowest paid and worst treated out of any other nation in the world. Yet because of the inflation of the cost of living and the inability of the minimum wage to keep up many people are stuck working jobs that only provide them with the bare essential amount of income to survive. All of this being said, it can be understood that people will do pretty much anything in a lot of cases to find and retain employment. This includes following strict guidelines and working unfair hours for low pay in order to not have to face total impoverishment.

With jobs being essential for survival to most lower to middle class people it’s become accepted that employers can terminate their workers for things like not wearing their hair a certain way or wearing an article of clothing that’s outside the company’s standards. This may not sound that serious at face value, but there are many instances where workers are subject to less fair treatment wherein they don’t speak up in fear of losing their job. I’ve spoken with workers in the service field who work for companies like these who have been told they can’t pull their hair back because it doesn’t look “professional”, that they can’t roll their uniform shirt sleeves up during the summer because it too looks “unprofessional”, that they can’t wear pinstripe dress slacks because the company requires they wear solid black, that they can’t even so much as take one bite of a small snack while on the job, and that they can’t be seen looking at their cellphone while on the job or it’ll be “taken away”. All of these people have worked for barely above minimum wage and have gotten less than full-time hours. Uniform and dress code standards are one thing, but these types of requirements seem practically out of line, don’t they? And even if someone does have the nerve to take action for “discrimination” or whatever else, they can’t do so without losing the job and spending even more money in legal fees to take it to court.

Society must have rules, in every aspect. If companies pay their workers for their time and effort, the workers should be held to company standards. I fully agree with dress code standards at the office and codes of conduct when dealing with clients and customers. If one wants to be successful one should hold themselves to those standards without it being required by any specific employer. However, when it comes down to meaningless details that are supposed to be treated like the word of law by workers who don’t even work often enough to remember them all, it tends to appear a little excessive. A happy worker is a productive worker, and the companies out there that see that and embrace it are the ones that will succeed. You can’t always please every one of your customers or shareholders, but if your workforce is treated fairly and their rights are respected they will be more likely to go the extra mile to benefit the company.