By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 23

In this column:

  • Can My Boss Make Me Work Seven Days a Week?
  • Can An Employer Read Your Email?
  • How Many Can Live in a One-Bedroom Apartment?

Can My Boss Make Me Work Seven Days a Week?

Is it legal for my boss to make me work seven days a week without a day off? I work as a dietary aide in an assisted living facility. We are very short handed right now, and I've been told I have to work on my days off. Isn't it the supervisor's job to fill in where needed? My supervisor works five days a week and has every weekend off. To me that isn't fair.

The Commissioner says:

It is not illegal under the Human Rights Act for your boss to require you to work seven days a week with no days off -- unless discrimination is involved. If, for example, your boss was requiring you or other workers of a certain race, sex, or national origin to work a tougher schedule than those not of that race, sex or national origin, that could be illegal. To treat workers differently because of religion, sexual orientation, age, marital status or a disability is also illegal. But if none of these reasons are involved, your boss can probably require you to work just about any schedule. There are laws with respect to overtime pay and breaks that employers must provide. If you have questions about breaks or overtime you may want to contact the Department of Labor and Industry at 1-800-342-5354 or (651) 284-5005, or visit them on the web at

Can An Employer Read Your Email?

The Commissioner says:

The issue of an employer's right to access employee email vs. an employee's right to privacy is a complicated one. The Department of Human Rights would become involved in such a dispute only if some employees were being treated differently than others for a reason protected by the Human Rights Act -- if employees of a certain race or sex were being monitored more closely than others, for example, simply because of their race or sex. If email was being used by employees or managers to sexually harass other employees, or if racial slurs were involved, management would be required to take action to end this behavior. And if a manager was not only reading an employee's email but engaging in other behaviors the employee considered intrusive -- asking personal questions, for example, or otherwise prying into an employee's private life -- such behavior could potentially violate the Act.

But merely monitoring email doesn't violate the law we enforce; we can't definitively answer whether it might violate another law. It is worth remembering, though, that in most cases the computer an employee works on, and the network or server that stores the email, is the property of the employer. It would probably be a good idea for an employee to assume that his or her email may be monitored, and to behave accordingly.

How Many Can Live in a One-Bedroom Apartment?

My son and daughter-in law-live in a one-bedroom apartment and are expecting their first child. Is there a law about how many people can live in a one-bedroom apartment? I'm concerned that they cannot afford a two bedroom at this time.

The Commissioner Says:

A landlord can limit the number of people living in a one-bedroom unit, but such limits must be reasonable -- otherwise, if such limits have the effect of keeping out families with children or requiring them to move to larger units than they can afford, there may be a violation of the Human Rights Act's protection against discrimination based on familial status. What's reasonable? That can depend on many factors, including the size of the one-bedroom unit and the age of the children. Some cities have ordinances specifying the number of people who can live in units of a certain size, and generally those ordinances would take precedence. But if your son and daughter-in-law believe their landlord's policy is unreasonable, they may want to contact our intake unit at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704.

The answers in these columns are not intended as legal advice. The Department of Human Rights does not make a judgment on any case without carefully examining all the facts.

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