Most people know they have some rights at work, but it can be difficult determining which actions are legal and which actions could give your employer a legal cause to terminate your employment.
While many employers understand and comply with labor laws, other employers regularly violate employment laws, knowingly or unknowingly.
The Law Offices of Going and Plank has put together a list of six ways that employers in Lancaster County often break state and federal labor laws. Review these infractions and see how your employer is doing.
1. Forbidding Employees to Discuss Salary With Co-Workers
Many employers either discourage or expressly forbid salary discussions among employees. However, employers are prohibited from imposing pay secrecy policies and cannot prevent most employees from sharing or discussing wages or salaries. The basis of the National Labor Relations Act is to enable employees to effectively organize or unionize by discussing wages and uncovering potential inequities, and the law applies to almost all types of workplaces.
2. Not Paying Overtime
Some Pennsylvania employers will tell you they “don’t pay overtime” to anyone. However, the decision to pay overtime is not decided by the employer, but mandated by law. Jobs are divided into two categories: exempt and non-exempt. If your job is categorized as non-exempt, your employer must pay you overtime (time and a half) for all hours you work beyond 40 in any given week. Additionally, you must be paid if your employer requires you to be on call or to respond to requests and calls after hours. And it is illegal for your employer to ask you to do any work “off the clock.” If you suspect your employer is breaking overtime laws, or shorting you on wages, contact Going and Plank to discuss your situation.
3. Reprimanding You for Complaining About Unfair Policies or Practices on Social Media
The National Labor Relations Act protects your right to talk to people about your wages and working conditions, and those rights extend to sharing this information on social media. The National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly ruled that limiting or prohibiting employees’ ability to use social media as a communication tool violates the employees’ rights to engage in “protected concerted activity” and that workers have the right to say negative things about their jobs in public forums without risk.
However, you are not protected from posting personal gripes or making maliciously false statements about your employer or activities at your place of employment.
4. Treating Independent Contractors Like Employees, or Trying to Classify Employees as Contractors
Employers who use contractors instead of employees are relieved of the responsibility to pay benefits, vacation pay, unemployment insurance, or overtime. That’s why it’s sometimes tempting for employers to hire someone as a contractor, instead of as an employee. Contractors are not obligated to work on-premise or to be told where the work can be done, or during which hours it must be completed. A contractor is not beholden to a single employer, and cannot be prohibited from working for other employers simultaneously. A contractor employs their own staff and hires and fires their own staff without input from an employer.
If you are a contractor, you should not have a business card identifying you as an employee of the company, nor should you represent yourself as an employee to potential customers or clients.
If your company controls when and where you work, does evaluations, or requests you to represent yourself as an employee to customers or clients, you’re probably legally classified as an employee. If you feel that you have been misclassified, contact the team at Going and Plank to discuss your options.
5. Not Following Employee Handbook Policies
Pennsylvania is an employment “at-will” state, meaning that an employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason, with or without cause, unless there exists an employment contract, law or public policy that says otherwise. An employee handbook may create an employment contract if it includes an indication that the employer intended it as such with acts such as including specific policy statements and not reserving any right to revise the handbook at any time for any reason. Some employers require employees to sign a paper saying the handbook has been received. Sometimes, the handbook is never provided, sometimes it is revised and updated versions are not provided. Sometimes employers violate provisions in the handbook, including pertinent and specific information about benefits, discrimination, harassment, sick leave, personal leave, and Family and Medical Leave policies.
Ask your employer if they have a handbook and request a copy. Spending time with the handbook will help you understand the benefits to which you are entitled and the best ways to deal with concerns, conflicts or legal complaints. If you believe that the handbook creates a contract and your employer has violated that contract, then contact Going and Plank to discuss your options. To find out more about employee handbooks, read more by clicking here.
6. Pressuring Employees to Promptly Sign Employment Contracts and Agreements
Many employees will be asked to sign a variety of employment contracts and agreements at the beginning of their employment or at different stages in during employment. These may include non-compete covenants, non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality agreements, employee handbooks, and severance agreements.
You are legally entitled to time to review any agreement to ensure you understand it and are not signing away basic employment rights. Before you sign any employment contract, ask an employee rights lawyer from Going and Plank to review the contract in order to clearly identify the terms and any issues that may work unfairly against you. Don’t sign any employment contract if it contains any language that you do not understand!
What to Do if Your Employer is Violating Employment Laws
It’s helpful to start from the assumption that your employer does not realize they are breaking the law. Approach your manager and bring any concern that you may have to his or her attention calmly, in a non-confrontational way. For example, if your employer asks you to sign a contract by the end of the day, you can respond, “I am legally entitled reasonable time to review a contract thoroughly, so I’m going to need a few days to look this over, is that a problem?”
If the non-confrontational approach doesn’t work, then it may be time to consult with an employment lawyer to explore your options. Contact the team at The Law Offices of Going and Plank to assist you in discovering and protecting your rights as an employee.