Can a corporation take away my rights?

The US has a bill of rights that sets out a variety of actions that the government cannot infringe on: speech, assembly, gun ownership, religion, etc. It has been suggested by many on this board that rights are part of the social contract between government and the citizen.

What I would like to know is if corporations are subject to the same scrutiny.

Take religion, I am free to practice a religion of my choosing, the government can’t ban it or force me to worship something else.

Can a corporation? Could a company require me to practice a religion as condition of my employment? Could they forbid me from practicing a religion?

Is the simple answer, “yes, a company has the right to hire and fire you for any reason they want.”

I get that within company property internet sites can be blocked, firearms can be banned. But what about in my personal life? Could my employer fire me for writing a book they don’t like? Or stipulate that I am not to post on message boards? (obviously excluding intellectual property or non-disclosure documents)

Said more succinctly, could I ever say, “Company XYZ violated my right to…” and have a legal leg to stand on?

Maybe you could narrow the place you’re asking about, because the answers to your questions may be jurisdictional. I see that your location is “Toronto, Canada,” but in some of your posts in other threads, you’ve implied that you may be in the US. Not that your location matters for many purposes, but for your questions here, it does; since employment law in the US and Canada differs as regards employee rights on and off the job.

US law includes “at-will employment” which states that “any hiring is presumed to be ‘at will’; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals ‘for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all,’ and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work.”

There are exceptions which are illegal to fire over, depending on the laws of the state in question, but those usually cover things like age/racial/gender discrimination. The employer in question, if they cover their tracks properly and do not state a reason (or that reason) for termination of employment, could fire someone for one of these discriminatory reasons and thus get away with it.

Also, the right of freedom of speech in the US only relates to government prohibition/suppression, not what a company can do.

I suspect that yes, barring certain exceptions as outlined in the linked article, a company could probably fire you for doing things it didn’t like, especially if it thought that these things reflected poorly upon it.

I know that plenty of teachers have been fired or suspended over MySpace postings or Facebook photos, even if the “questionable” material isn’t about their job.

Succinctly, in most common-law jurisdictions, yes.

Less succinctly, you could write whole textbooks on this issue.

I’d like to think that it doesn’t matter, that passive rights are irrelevant to their location.

But we might as well stick with the US which is where most of the constitutional lawyers are from on this board. But I would also like to know if other countries have ever established a president where “Company XYZ violated a person’s right to…” especially considering that there is no such thing as employee rights.

I’m not sure cases where they “cover their tracks” are relevent; if an act is explicitly illegal and they find a way to get away with it by lying about their motives or whatever, that doesn’t make the act any less illegal.

Are there any example of that happening?

“Wal-mart was found guilty of infringing on Mrs Simpson’s right to free speech by…”

Even outside of the conditions of employment. What if I wrote a scathing book about Wal-mart and they set their goons loose to prevent it from being published. Could that be a violation of my right to free speech? Or is it the right of free market enterprise to do what money allows?

Even in the U.S., employees have rights. But, to take one example, and without looking into the details of the specific laws, the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia all forbid discrimination based on race or ethnicity – and in the U.S., Canada and Australia that may be at the state/provincial level as well as at the federal level. So if Company XYZ advertises, “We have 10 positions for workers at our factory: people of Irish descent need not apply,” then (if your father was from Ireland) you can say that the company violated your right to be considered for employment.

It’s not the definitive end-all answer on the issue, but you might be interested in Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946). ( Wikipedia page).

Wouldn’t religion, which emacknight asked specifically about, be a protected trait under Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964?

I think you may be confused about what a constitution’s bill of rights does. It protects the people from their government. It does not protect the people from other people or from corporations.

For that, and especially in the employment sphere, governments pass laws. Here, we start to get into the jurisdictional question: what does employment law say in a particular jurisdiction? It has already been said upthread that US employment law includes “at-will employment,” which is true enough; but you will not find such a thing in any province of Canada. Beyond that, though, are a number of things that can involve overlapping legislation and company policy. Here in Alberta, for example, I’d answer your questions this way:

– Can your employer dictate your religious observances, or your lack of them? No. See the Alberta Human Rights Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. A-25.5, s. 7.

– Can an employer fire you for any reason they want? Yes, but if it is a “without cause” termination, the employer is then subject to certain obligations towards you, most often some form of severance pay. See the Employment Standards Code, R.S.A. 2000, c. E-9, ss. 54-61 for the minimum obligations required of an employer when terminating an employee for no reason.

– Can your employer fire you for writing a book it doesn’t like? Check your employer’s policy manual and/or your original contract with the employer (since there is no at-will employment in Canada, all employment in Canada is regarded as a legal contract between two parties, even if no written document exists). If those are silent as to what you can do in your off hours, then you might have grounds for an action. Or you might not, if you violated some explicit company confidentiality policy in order to research your book. This situation is fact-dependent; if your book was a religious book, and your employer fired you because of it, then I think a good defense could be made under the protected grounds of the Alberta Human Rights Act.

– Are there precedents where an employer has been found to have violated an employee’s right to X, where X is a protected ground under rights granted in a constitution’s charter of rights? Many of them. But typically, they are prosecuted under the applicable legislation and/or caselaw–not the constitution.

Again, though, that’s Alberta–a jurisdiction that has legislation and precedents that may or may not differ from those of other jurisdictions. But the constitution granting individuals rights against their government has nothing to do with this; rather, it is the legislation and court precedents of a jurisdiction that grant employees rights. And this is why I’m saying that the answers to your questions would be dependent on jurisdiction.

Then there’s drug testing. In this case, what you do solidly on your own time can be governed by a corporation.

I think the term utilized my most corporations is, “Reasonable Accommodation” - meaning as long as it doesn’t interfere with business operations or create a hostile environment for coworkers.

Again jurisdiction-dependent. Employers can’t require drug tests in Canada unless they can point to a specific job-related need to do so.

Ah, just so. I hadn’t realized the OP was posting from Canada.

I’m still not sure it entirely matters. Both countries have an established Bill of Rights/Charter of Rights and Freedom, that is set up to protect citizens from their government.

Obviously specific legislation in each jurisdiction will vary, but the concept remains the same. The answer seems to be yes, a corporation can take away my rights.

The next step is again, the same in all jurisdictions, and that is the need to write specific laws that then give specific individuals rights, such as employee rights.

So would we say that employee rights are passive? Or active?

The trouble, as I understand it, actually lies in contract law. If you sign an employee agreement (which, of course, must be signed if you want to be employed by them) saying that, in part, you have to submit to drug screenings, then you’re stuck. Nobody’s forcing you to sign the contract, but if you don’t, you can’t be employed by them. I strongly, strongly detest the practice, and wish the law limited what could be in an employee contract, but it’s a significant sticking point.

Based on my limited understanding of contract law (from one course during engineering school) can’t a contract be thrown out if elements contained within it are illegal and/or coercive?

Said in another way, there are limits to what you can put in a contract, like requiring someone to blow me once a week. Could it be found that the terms of the contract were a violation of my rights? Could I legally fire a girl for not blowing me once a week? Sorry for the rather vulgar example, some times it’s the only way to get a point across.

Backing the example up a bit, could an employment contract state that I cannot join the Church of Scientology? Or write books criticizing the conservative moment? Or participating in a Free Tibet rally on my own time? (assume for the sake of argument that those activities aren’t directly related to the company)

Would that contract hold up in court?

I would assume not, but thus far, I am guessing that the drug-testing clause has not been found illegal or coercive, at least in US courts. Of course, I’m totally talking out of my anus about this, since I haven’t the first freaking clue about the actual case law history for this issue.

Again, though, this is jurisdictionally-dependent. Here, for example, the law does put limits on what can be in an employee contract. Neither the employer nor the employee can agree to waive any rights granted through applicable employment and human rights legislation.