An unwritten rule, especially on farms, is that if you hire someone, you have the right to tell them what to do. There are some people more tactful at doing that than others, but that’s a subject for another day. Do you really have this right?
Mike Manning counters that workers have rights, too. Whether it’s your son, your spouse, a part-time neighbor boy or a full-time employee, they have rights. And one of their rights is to refuse to do something if they can justify why they feel it’s dangerous or unsafe.
“If you’re the worker, you always have the right to say ‘No!'” Manning stresses. While he also works with farmers, over the past two years Manning has focused on educating young workers about safety procedures in confined spaces. His efforts are sponsored by Purdue University’s farm safety program, headed up by Bill Field, Extension farm safety specialist.
Saying you don’t feel comfortable doing a job your boss assigned is your right, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, Manning observes. The tendency, especially for young workers, is to please the boss, especially if they haven’t been on the job long. Manning urges young workers to be aware of potential dangers, think for themselves and explain why they think a situation is too dangerous for them.
Perhaps they haven’t been trained properly, or maybe the employer isn’t providing the proper personal protective gear, such as a mask designed for the hazard the employees might encounter. These are also rights that employees have, Manning says.
“You also have a right as a worker to have access to training, and to have knowledge of what to do in an emergency,” Manning says.
I’ve heard Manning talk to prospective young workers. When he talks about their rights, my first reaction is to bristle — because today, if I’m needing help on my small sheep operation, I’m the one hiring, not the one being hired. I expect them to do what I say, when I say it.
Too harsh? If you can honestly say you have never taken that same attitude, then let me know. In that case, I am too harsh.
Assume many employers take that attitude on the farm. I’ve come to realize that when I do that, I put the employee in a bind, especially if it’s a young person who needs gas money, who might be intimidated working for a much older person anyway.
If he or she sees something in a way that I don’t, and perhaps sees potential risk, he or she is not likely to bring it up. This worker is going to be more inclined to do the job and hope everything works out OK.
From hiring a few young people, I’ve discovered that just because I’m older, I’m not always the smartest person in the barn. Manning has a point. Workers do have rights, even on farms.
One of them is to tell the boss he or she is wrong, and tell them why. A word to the wise if you’re a young person, though. I would learn what the word ″tact″means before you have such an encounter!