It is certainly a no-brainer that public-sector employees enjoy more employee rights than their private counterparts. And the reasons are not far to seek. Public-sector employees are hired by government agencies on a permanent basis and the constitutional law automatically grants them their rights.
Nothing of the sort is witnessed in the case of private employees. This is because they enjoy few constitutional rights. And rightly so, since private sector employees are basically meant to boost the profits of private businesses, unlike the public-sector employees, who discharge official functions and render public service. The only thing that is curbed to a limited extent for public-sector employees is union activity and speech, because these employees hold positions of trust in the society.
Private-sector employees vis a vis public sector employees
There are some rights and curbs on both private sector and public-sector employees. Let us see what they are:
- Termination of service
Private sector employees can get their services terminated for any reason, except for their race and/or gender, for their rights under workers’ compensation or for testifying in court. On the other hand, a public-sector employer requires a cause for disciplining, demoting or firing an employee, which may include poor performance, misconduct, dishonesty and/or violation of work rules. Even for this, the employer is required to give a show cause notice to the employee to enable him or her to respond to the charges levelled.
- Freedom of speech
The public-sector employees are protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution for openly airing their views under freedom of speech. However, their views should not hamper the government’s ability to function. In contrast, private sector employees are under no such government protection and can be demoted or given the pink slip, if they dare to express their views not in consonance with the policies of the organization they work for.
- Creating or joining unions
Private sector employees are at liberty to create or join unions under the federal law. This is to enable such employees to redress any grievance they have against employers with regard to wage or working conditions. This also give them the right to go on a strike, if their grievance is not addressed or demands not met.
The private sector employers are restrained from discipling or cutting wages or firing the employees for these acts or for joining the union or for collective bargaining. Although public-sector employees enjoy no such right, many states have permitted them to join unions, under the provisions of the federal or state law.
- Submitting to interrogation or investigation
The Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in its recent decision held that the services of a private sector employee can be terminated in case he or she refuses to be interviewed by the employer conducting an internal investigation. However, a private sector employee can use a union representative during his or her investigation by the employer.
The public-sector employees’ rights are protected under the Fifth Amendment from self-recrimination. This means that a public-sector employee cannot be compelled by the employer to say anything that can be used against him or her in criminal prosecutions. A case in point is Garrity vs. New Jersey case in the United States Supreme Court that upheld the retention of a police officer who refused to speak with the investigators in a case where his deposition was important.
The difference between the rights of public-sector employees and private sector employees is based on the nature of government and private sector jobs. While a government job is protected by the constitution, a private sector job is not, but it enjoys some rights that public-sector employees don’t.