Legal Toolkit Pennsylvania Employment and Labor Relations

What to Know About Employment and Labor Relations

a

Hiring laws

Allow employers to choose not to hire or promote the most qualified person who applies for a job but federal law prevents them from making a hiring or promotion decision based on a factor protected by law, such as gender, age, race, religion, national origin, veteran status, or disability.

b

Employment agreements

Are legal documents that employers may require employees to sign, setting forth the specific terms of the employment relationship. Such agreements may contain non-competition, non-solicitation or non-disclosure provisions, which were generally used in executive level hiring, but are now becoming more commonplace for persons in competitive industries. In addition to clearly stating job responsibilities and salary, an employment agreement may include any other details the employee and employer agree are important to solidifying the hiring, such as the length of employment; specific employee benefits; grounds for termination; non-compete restrictions; protection of company trade secrets; company ownership of work created by the employee; and the way in which disputes can be resolved. Well-drafted employment agreements are legally binding and should not be entered into unless the document has first been thoroughly reviewed and understood by both parties. Before signing, employees should consider not just positive points like salary and benefits but also legal factors such as how the agreement may restrict future career moves for them or whether they could face a lawsuit for accepting employment from a competitor. If some part of the agreement is particularly undesirable, negotiating with the employer before you sign is important. Employment attorneys are skilled at the fine points of such agreements and negotiations and can advise you of any areas of concern or assist you with negotiations.

c

Employees with job issues

May wish to consult with labor or employment attorneys before the issues become irreversibly bad or the job is lost. In difficult work situations, employees may feel too emotional or angry to find appropriate solutions on their own. If a practical remedy cannot be identified to help your workplace situation, a labor and employment attorney may be able to advise you about the best alternative to quitting in frustration (i.e. begin looking for other work; preparing for unemployment; waiting to get terminated so that you can collect unemployment benefits).

d

Discrimination in the workplace

Refers to situations when an applicant or employee believes he or she has been denied employment, or been terminated, demoted, or deprived of some other aspect of employment based on a factor protected by law, such as gender, race, age, religion, disability, national origin or veteran status. In order to have a basis for a charge of discrimination, the applicant or employee must be able to prove that he or she was treated differently than others on the basis of that protected factor and that the employer had no lawful reason for not hiring them, or, in the case of an employee, negatively affecting their employment. A civil rights attorney can usually advise applicants and employees of workplaces about the likely merits of a personnel matter, and an employment attorney can similarly advise employers on handling personnel issues or defending possible claims.

e

Sexual Harassment

In the workplace can include unwelcome sexual advances and conduct or other physical or verbal acts of a sexual nature which occur in the workplace. Specifically, sexual harassment may occur if an employer makes direct sexual advances or statements, offers job-related benefits in exchange for sexual conduct, or if a co-workers, supervisors, or other persons affiliated with the employer’s business creates a hostile work environment by maintaining an overly sexual work environment. In Pennsylvania, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission have the authority to investigate claims and enforce laws against discrimination and sexual harassment.

f

Unemployment compensation

Benefits are payments to workers who have been terminated for reasons other than gross misconduct. The unemployment benefits are funded by employer contributions, and are provided to help the employee financially while they look for new work. In Pennsylvania, unemployment compensation benefits are provided by the Department of Labor and Industry and can be applied for online (see Where to Read More for a link). In general, benefits are based on a percentage of an individual's earnings over a recent 52-week period, up to a State maximum amount. Unemployment benefits can be paid for a maximum of 26 weeks in most states, except during times of high unemployment when benefits may be extended. Unemployment benefits are subject to income tax.

g

Wage and Hour issues:

Most employers are required by state or federal law to pay a minimum wage and to pay employees who are not otherwise exempt from these laws overtime (at the rate of time and one-half per hour for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per work week). Wage and hour laws differ by state and by type of business. Most employers will let you know when you are hired, or when you are promoted to a new position, whether your job is considered exempt or non-exempt from these laws. Exempt employees are paid a salary and are generally not paid overtime, regardless of the number of hours they work. Wage-and-hour laws can also impact whether you will be paid for holidays, sick days or vacation days. You should consult with an attorney well-versed in wage and hour matters if you are an employee who believes that you have not been paid minimum wage or overtime, or if you are a business that needs to know who is entitled to be paid overtime and who is exempt from these laws.

h

Workers' compensation:

In Pennsylvania, all companies with employees are required to maintain workers' compensation insurance coverage.There are attorneys who focus their practices on representing employees or companies in disputed workers' compensation claims. If you are injured at work or if your company needs guidance in dealing with claims and claims prevention, you should consult an attorney with experience in these matters.

i

OSHA:

The federal Department of Labor has developed regulations to insure workplace safety. Collectively, these regulations are referred to as the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The government has the power to investigate and cite employers who violate these regulations, and may also pursue claims on behalf of employees who are injured or die as a result of violations or who are retaliated against for participating in an investigation. Citations can be steep, and, as a result, employers should fully understand the implications before paying a fine or negotiating what they think appears to be a fair settlement. Companies should consult with employment attorneys experienced in OSHA cases.