If you are an employee in the state of Pennsylvania, you’ll want to become familiar with PA work laws. There are procedures for exposing employers who do not follow these laws, but you’ll first need to recognize a violation.
PA Employment Laws
Wages and hours is one area where the law specifically protects employees. There are a number of reasons why an employer might want to pay you less than their other workers. The more employees an employer has, the more tempted they might be to cut costs by trimming wages or by reducing the number of hours you are allowed to work.
To keep some uniform standards across industries and to protect workers who might otherwise have no leverage over powerful employers, employment law is rather specific on wages and hours. One of the important topics covered by Pennsylvania law is wages. Pennsylvania follows the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25. When the federal minimum wage goes up, Pennsylvania’s goes with it.
Wage Laws for Employees with Tips
Pennsylvania also has a minimum wage for tip workers. Employees in the service industry who typically receive tips for their work must be paid an hourly wage of at least $2.83. If employees receive less than $30 per month in tips, they do not qualify for this reduced minimum wage.
There is also a safeguard in Pennsylvania work laws for tip workers who do not earn the equivalent of minimum wage with their reduced wages and tips combined. In that situation, the employer is required to make up the difference. It is also unlawful for the employer to get any portion of the tip money earned by an employee. Employers may, however, require employees to pool their tips among other employees.
Wages for Disabled Workers
Pennsylvania law does allow employers to pay less than minimum wage to workers with disabilities. These employers are required to obtain a special certificate for this fee arrangement, though. Employers may also be certified to pay learners — participants in legitimate training programs — less than minimum wage. These training programs must meet minimum standards.
Apprentice and Trainee Wage Laws
However, employers are prohibited from paying apprentices and trainees less than minimum wage under Pennsylvania labor law. Student learners also must be paid the full minimum wage. Student workers, however, can be paid less than minimum wage. There is a clear legal definition in PA law for student workers, and their employers must be certified to pay the sub-minimum wage.
The definition of student worker and learner under Pennsylvania law might not be important to you unless you fit into one of these categories. If you are offered a wage that is less than minimum for any reason, you can consult the labor board to see if it is a legal offer. The law is very specific when it comes to wages for employees in the state of Pennsylvania.
Employee Rights in the Workplace
It might seem as though your employer has all the power. It can be difficult to demand a higher wage or even request some time off. Most of us rely on a job for our livelihood and are afraid of what might happen if we lost our job.
It is a good idea to be familiar with your rights, so you can be sure they are not violated. Your rights as an employee in the state of Pennsylvania can be broken down into these three main categories:
- Discrimination Prohibited
Federal law protects you from discrimination on the basis of religion, color, gender, race and nationality. According to federal law, you also cannot be discriminated against based on your age if you are over 40 years old, or for any disability or genetic issues.
As an employee in the state of Pennsylvania, you are protected by federal law and state law, which in Pennsylvania adds a couple additional protections when it comes to discrimination. In Pennsylvania, no one can be discriminated against in the workplace for using a service animal or for having a GED rather than a traditional high school diploma.
Protections against discrimination in employment cover every aspect of the employment experience: job postings, hiring practices, layoffs, benefits, promotions, wages, application forms and firing. Discrimination against any of the protected groups during any stage of employment is unlawful.
Discrimination and harassment are very close in nature, and both are prohibited in Pennsylvania. Work laws were created to maintain a non-hostile work environment for all employees. Harassment, either verbal or physical, based on any of the above-listed traits is prohibited, whether it is perpetrated by the employer or a co-worker.
- Right to time off
Labor law exists, in part, to ensure employees get time off from work. No one is required to work every day to keep their jobs. Although neither federal law nor Pennsylvania law require employees to get paid for their time off, they are still entitled to unpaid leave.
Family and medical leave is a right of all employees protected by law. Eligible employees must be given up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), this time can be taken off if you are sick or need to care for a sick family member. Your employer is not required to pay you for this time off, but they do have to continue your health insurance coverage.
Employers are also required to provide military leave, again unpaid, for anyone who requires it for federal or state military duty. Your job must be offered to you when you return.
The other purpose for unpaid leave is jury duty. If you are called to jury duty, your employer must let you take the time off from work and allow you to keep your seniority and benefits. It is unlawful to harass or threaten employees who are called to jury duty.
- Right to safety
As a Pennsylvania employee, you have a right to work in a safe environment. Your employer is required to provide safety equipment, training and procedures to mitigate all threats of obvious danger on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does periodic workplace inspections, and you have the right to call for an inspection if you have concerns about your safety while on the job. Complaining of or reporting hazardous job conditions is not a lawful reason for termination or harassment.
Knowing your rights as an employee can help you avoid being taken advantage of by your employer. Even a well-intentioned employer may not be aware of everything that goes on within their organization. By bringing potential violations to their attention, you could help improve working conditions for everyone.
Signs of PA Employment Laws Being Broken
An important concept to digest as an employee in the state of Pennsylvania is at-will employment. In this state, and several others like it, an employer is free to terminate an employee at their own discretion (at will) for any or no reason at all. On the other hand, employees are not required to give a reason or any notice for choosing to leave a job.
In the absence of a specific contract, the at-will doctrine applies. You might think this would lead to frequent firings when employers become disenchanted with their employees, but it doesn’t make it too easy to fire someone. There are exceptions to at-will employment recognized under PA law that protect workers from discrimination and other rights violations. Here are the primary exceptions:
- Breaking the law — An employer cannot fire someone in violation of employment law, either federal or state. For example, you cannot be fired while you are on military leave or family leave. You also cannot be fired for obeying the law rather than your employer’s instructions when the two are in conflict. Your employer cannot ask you to do something that would violate the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, for example, and then fire you for refusing to do so.
- Public policy violations — You cannot be fired, even as an at-will employee, if your termination would violate public policy. The most obvious example of wrongful termination due to public policy would be if you were fired for refusing to fire another employee who was a Catholic woman — and who had done nothing wrong.
You refused to break the law that says you cannot discriminate against people due to religion or gender. Your employer could not fire you for insubordination when you were refusing an unlawful direction.
It is good public policy to champion people who follow the law and discourage employers from engaging in unlawful activities. When an employee exercises their rights as an employee or as an American, they cannot be fired for their behavior. That means an employee who refuses to lie on behalf of their employer, either to a client or an investigating agency, cannot be fired, although the employees’ actions may displease the boss.
Questions of employers breaking Pennsylvania labor law usually come up when a firing takes place. Fired employees are inclined to think their firing was unlawful, and sometimes it is. Reviewing the details of the termination and how it was carried out can possibly reveal violations. If you are concerned about employment laws being broken, here are some signs to look for:
- Convenient firing — Getting fired from a job is always an unpleasant experience that brings up a lot of emotional issues. Thinking past the emotions, however, you should consider the timing. Prior to your firing, did you make a complaint about harassment on the job? Did you request leave under FMLA? Did you report any unlawful conduct by your superior or one of your co-workers? Did you ask for any special accommodations? If your firing can be linked to any of these situations, there is a chance your employer is breaking PA employment law.
- No reason given — Pennsylvania is an “at will” state and sometimes employers try to use this fact to hide their true motives. When an employer refuses to give any indication of why they are terminating an employee, it’s a red flag. No one fires someone for no reason at all. Employees are an up-front expense for any organization, and it is not likely that they would want to throw away any potential return on that investment if they didn’t feel it was necessary. There’s a reason, and they’re just not telling you — probably because it is unlawful.
- Mandatory release agreement — At the time of termination, some employers may insist you sign a release. They use it as means of releasing your final paycheck, severance or other monies to you, but the release requires you to sign away your right to sue them. An employer who is worried about being sued might not be operating lawfully.
- Replacements — When you are fired and then quickly replaced, there could be cause for suspicion. It may be an indication that your employer was prepared for your departure or that they may have orchestrated your departure to bring someone else in.
- A trail of paper — One indication that your termination was planned, and possibly for nefarious reasons, is the storm of paperwork that comes with it. Employers know that collecting evidence of your poor performance can help them hide the real reason they fired you if you bring a claim against them.
After they make the decision to fire you, they ramp up their documentation. You may have had several performance reviews leading up to your termination. When they are ready to fire you, they bring out all the reports and make sure you sign them, attesting to your knowledge that they exist.
These are some of the most obvious signs that an employer is violating the law. Employees often have the inside track to knowing what an employer is doing wrong. Trusting your suspicions and knowing how to act on them can help you protect your rights as an employee.
How to Handle Suspected Illegal Activity by Your Employer
Everyone has heard of the whistleblower who turns the boss in for illegal activities, but every case is not that dramatic. Sometimes employers break the law and violate employees’ rights in small or subtle ways that no one is willing to complaint about. A violation of employment law is just as big a deal as committing a criminal act.
The law protects employees’ rights for a reason, and if those rights are being violated, the situation should be reported and resolved. These are the steps you should take if you think your employer is breaking PA labor law:
- Get the facts — You’ll want to sort out fact from fiction. It is best to focus on information you directly received or communications you can document. When employees are unhappy, they often tell stories around the water cooler, and the details of those stories can become embellished. Check your facts before proceeding.
- Confirm the details — A general understanding of labor law as it applies to employees in Pennsylvania will help narrow your focus. Knowing details like the total number of employees your employer has is important. You also want to consider what type of violation you think your employer might be committing. Are they being discriminatory in their hiring practices or not providing a safe work environment? Is your employer actually perpetrating the offense or are they condoning the behavior of one of their employees?
- Start with your supervisor — When making a complaint, you need to follow the chain of command. If your supervisor is involved in the potential violation, you might go directly to their It is not a good idea to take your complaint directly to your employer unless you have already informed the other applicable layers of the organization. If you go right to the human resources department, for example, they will likely start by sending you back to your supervisor. You need to work within the hierarchy of your organization. They are your first resource for a resolution.
- Report outside your organization — Once you’ve exhausted the chain of command in your organization, if you are still not satisfied with the response, you can look elsewhere for help. You should find the appropriate person or location to make your complaint to. If you think your employer is violating labor law, for example, the state labor board should be your next stop. They will be able to talk with you confidentially and direct you to the right person to investigate your claim.
- Prepare for confrontation — Although it is unlawful for your employer to fire you for bringing a complaint, it could get a bit uncomfortable at work. In order to substantiate your claim, some type of investigation will have to take place. This may involve a call to your employer or a conversation with one or more of your co-workers. Depending on the situation, your identity could be concealed, but that is not always possible.
Reporting a violation of your rights as an employee might be difficult, but the situation is not likely to be resolved until you say something about it. Just talking around the water cooler is not enough. You have to make a complaint to the right person, so your side of the story becomes known.
Employment Lawyers in PA
Reporting your employer for breaking the law can be scary. Like most of us, you rely on your job for your income, and you cannot necessarily afford to jeopardize your professional and financial future. You do spend a lot of time at work, however, and an uncomfortable situation there can cause you undue stress and anxiety.
Employment lawyers in PA are experienced advocates for people in your situation. Consulting an attorney who handles labor law cases might give you the piece of mind you need to go forward with your complaint. At McCarthy Weisberg Cummings, P.C., we’re here to help people like you get through difficult times at work and protect your rights as an employee.
Whether you are dealing with harassment or with wrongful termination, we can give you sound advice about your potential claim. Our experienced attorneys offer an objective perspective on all labor and employment law issues to guide you to the solution that is right for your situation. You can depend on our knowledge of federal and Pennsylvania employment law to accurately ascertain the strength of your case, and, if necessary, to fight for your rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.