Worker rights and Health, Technology and Privacy in the Workplace, Human rights


Workers have the right to information under OSHA. This includes:

  • Records of work-related injuries and illnesses (OSHA 300 Log),
  • Results of workplace monitoring for health hazards (chemicals, for example),
  • Workers’ medical records obtained by the employer, and
  • Information about chemicals in the workplace.

Chemicals in the workplace can be safety or health hazards and are covered under the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s Hazard Communication standard.

This standard, also known as HazCom, requires that employers provide information and training to workers who may be exposed to toxic or hazardous chemicals at work. The standard requires employers to communicate with employees about hazardous substances in four ways:-

  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS): These are information sheets that employers must have available to workers for every chemical in the workplace. They include characteristics, safety hazards, health hazards, control measures, first aid procedures and manufacturer information.
  • Labeling: Employers must label all containers of chemicals with the chemical name and appropriate hazard warnings.
  • Training: The training must include names of chemicals, safety & health hazards, labeling, procedures to protect workers from exposure, labeling, the OSHA standard and the employer’s written hazard communication program.
  • Written Hazard Communication Program: Employers must have a written plan that explains how that employer will comply with all of the requirements of the HazCom standard. It also must include a list of all of the hazardous materials on site.

Workers’ Rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

Workers who have a union in private-sector workplaces are covered under the NLRA and have additional rights related directly to health and safety. Workplace rules and policies about health and safety are a mandatory subject of bargaining, which means that management must negotiate with the local union before implementing changes that will affect the health and safety of workers (unless explicitly waived in the contract). Local unions must make a timely written request to bargain over these issues.

A local union also has the right to information concerning subjects of bargaining. The local union can submit an information request for relevant documents including accident/incident reports, health and safety inspection records, information on workers’ compensation claims, and copies of any reports or studies by the employer or consultants.


Implementation And Training

Simply creating a policy is not enough. There must also be employee training. The training can be online, in-person, through seminars, etc. Training should be conducted on an annual basis and/or when the policy is updated and must be documented thoroughly. If a court dispute over a policy ever does develop, taking these steps will demonstrate to the court that the company underwent significant efforts to ensure compliance with the policy.

The importance of clearly conveying the policy and training is highlighted by the Supreme Court in Quon. In this case, the City of Ontario created and implemented a “Computer Usage, Internet and E-Mail Policy.” The City communicated this policy to all employees and had them sign a statement acknowledging they received and read the policy. However, this policy did not reference text messages directly, which was the communication at issue in the case. Regardless, the Supreme Court found the City clearly conveyed through an all-staff meeting that e-mail and text messages would receive similar treatment. The comments made at this meeting were also recorded in a memorandum and circulated to all employees. These documented steps helped overcome the employee’s argument that text messages were not part of the policy and could not be monitored.

Follow the Policy And Keep It Updated

Once a policy is in place and employees are properly trained, companies must actually follow the policy. Companies must also acknowledge that the modern digital world is in constant flux, rendering the technology and network use policy sufficient for only a short period of time. The policy must be continually updated to reflect changes in company technology, equipment and evolutions in the outside digital world.

For example, an appropriate policy should now address such items as social media (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) and text messaging, which play an ever increasing role in the life of most employees–both in and out of the workplace. The City of Ontario may have had an even stronger case if it updated its policy to reflect its adoption of pager and text messaging technology.

Testing the policy to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the company and accurately reflects what is happening in the company’s technology environment is also important in terms of making routine updates. If the policy does not achieve the proper objectives, the policy was not constructed or explained well. Either way, action should be taken to update and modify the policy as needed to ensure its accuracy and scope.

Without a policy in place to address employee technology and network use, companies are exposing themselves to unnecessary risk. Experience has shown that many companies forego taking action on security-related items such as technology and network use policies, choosing instead to wait until something goes wrong. This invites disaster. It is far more difficult, time-consuming and expensive to implement corrective policies and engage in costly and sometimes embarrassing litigation, than it would have been had the company acted proactively.


Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

International Human Rights Law

International human rights law lays down the obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

One of the great achievements of the United Nations is the creation of a comprehensive body of human rights law—a universal and internationally protected code to which all nations can subscribe and all people aspire. The United Nations has defined a broad range of internationally accepted rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. It has also established mechanisms to promote and protect these rights and to assist states in carrying out their responsibilities.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. Since its adoption in 1948, the UDHR has been translated into more than 501 languages – the most translated document in the world – and has inspired the constitutions of many newly independent States and many new democracies. The UDHR, together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols (on the complaints procedure and on the death penalty) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol, form the so-called International Bill of Human Rights.

Economic, social and cultural rights

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights entered into force in 1976, and had 164 states parties by the end of October  2016. The human rights that the Covenant seeks to promote and protect include:-

  • The right to work in just and favourable conditions;
  • The right to social protection, to an adequate standard of living and to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental well-being;
  • The right to education and the enjoyment of benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress.

Civil and political rights

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its First Optional Protocol entered into force in 1976. The Covenant had 167 states parties by the end of 2010. The Second Optional Protocol was adopted in 1989.

The Covenant deals with such rights as freedom of movement; equality before the law; the right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; peaceful assembly; freedom of association; participation in public affairs and elections; and protection of minority rights. It prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life; torture, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment; slavery and forced labour; arbitrary arrest or detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; war propaganda; discrimination; and advocacy of racial or religious hatred.

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