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Know How to Recognize and Fight Workplace Discrimination

ward-angela-By Angela Ward, Attorney

If you work in Lancaster County, you are protected against discrimination by numerous state and federal labor laws, and for good reason. Unfair or unequal treatment in the workplace based on any number of personal characteristics, rather than individual merit, can be costly, both financially and emotionally.

Discriminatory Behavior Can Harm You

While some cases of discrimination are obvious, others are more subtle. An employer might discriminate by the way they ask questions during the interview process. Or they may offer you a contract with less favorable terms than they would offer another employee with the same qualifications. Perhaps an employer passes you over for a promotion because they fear you may have to devote too much time to your young children.

While many workplace infractions do not meet the definition of discrimination, the law explicitly prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing, failure to promote and failure to protect from harassment by co-workers or supervisors. These kinds of discrimination can adversely affect your opportunities for raises, job assignments, training, compensation, and benefits.

If you suspect you’ve been discriminated against at work, contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster and let us evaluate your case to determine if your employer is violating your rights or breaking labor laws.

Workplace Discrimination is Prohibited by Labor Laws

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the primary labor law protecting against discrimination in the workplace, prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Title VII also protects employees from discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status, or sexual orientation. And the Equal Pay Act protects men and women who perform substantially equal work at the same workplace from sex-based wage discrimination. Federal law also recognizes sex-plus discrimination, in which a workplace discriminates based on sex plus another characteristic. For example, an employer may not necessarily discriminate against all female employees, but they may treat women with small children unfavorably.

In addition to the protections under Title VII, workers age 40 and older are protected from discrimination by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects qualified individuals from discrimination due to their disability.

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In Pennsylvania, workplace discrimination is serious. It is illegal to discriminate based on political affiliation, use of a service animal, holding a GED rather than a high school diploma, pregnancy, or caregiving responsibilities. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a new parent (including foster and adoptive parents) may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid or paid leave to care for their new child. FMLA can also be used for other caregiving responsibilities, and an employee should not be treated unfavorably should they choose to take such leave.

If you believe your employer is violating federal or state anti-discrimination laws, contact Going and Plank to discuss your case.

Don’t Delay in Filing a Workplace Discrimination Claim in Pennsylvania

If you work in Pennsylvania and you believe you’ve been discriminated against in the workplace, you must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission before you can file a lawsuit, and there are strict time limits in which charges must be filed.

The EEOC enforces federal laws, while the PHRC enforces the state’s anti-discrimination laws. A complaint must be filed with the PHRC within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act. The deadline for filing with the EEOC is also 180 days but may be extended to 300 days if the charge is also covered by a state anti-discrimination law. In many cases, claims can be cross-filed with both agencies. Contact Going and Plank and let us ensure that your claims are filed correctly.

Seek the Help of a Qualified Employee Rights Attorney

Workplace discrimination is not always easy to prove. It is wise to consult a qualified employee rights attorney who can evaluate your case and help you gather the documentation necessary to prove your claim. That may include your personnel record, physical evidence, medical records, and witness information, as well as your employee handbook, which should include the company’s policies on discrimination and harassment.

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If you suspect that your job, income, benefits, or professional advancement has been jeopardized unfairly, contact Going and Plank for a consultation and let us determine if you have a case for legal action. Compensation from a successful lawsuit varies depending on the type of discrimination and the state or federal law under which it was filed. In most cases, a settlement will usually include legal fees.

Taking legal action against your employer can be intimidating. Going and Plank also can protect you against unfair treatment or retaliation if you suspect you are being penalized for a claim or legal action you’ve made.

Want to find out more about employee rights? Read these articles and blogs:

9 Reasons Lawyers Should Review Contracts

Your Employer May be Breaking Labor Laws

6 Ways Many Employers Break PA Law

Illegal in PA: Five Ways Your Employer May be Breaking Pennsylvania Employment Laws

ward-angela-Lancaster-County-PennsylvaniaBy Angela M. Ward, Attorney

Pennsylvania and federal employment laws are designed to protect employees from unsafe working conditions, discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination, and ensure they receive fair pay and benefits. While many Lancaster County companies honor those labor laws, others knowingly or unknowingly engage in illegal employment practices – and that could cost you everything from wages to your job.

It is important you understand your rights as an employee. Here are five ways your employer may be breaking Pennsylvania or federal employment laws. If you suspect your employer has violated your employee rights, contact an attorney at Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster to review your case.

Violation 1: Treating Freelancers Like Employees, But Denying Them Employee Rights

It’s easy to see why an employer might be tempted to hire you as a freelancer rather than an employee. When you are classified as an independent contractor, you are exempt from certain employee rights. Employers are under no obligation to pay income taxes, offer benefits, pay overtime or vacation pay, or provide worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance. However, freelancers and independent contractors enjoy some rights of their own that regular employees do not. They determine where and during what hours they complete their contracted work, and they are free to work for other employers simultaneously.

If you are classified as a freelancer and your employer attempts to control when and where you work, evaluates you on your job performance, or asks you to represent yourself as an employee to customers or clients, then your employer is breaking the law. They are treating you like an employee but failing to provide you with the benefits to which you are entitled. Make sure you have a sound business contract that clearly outlines your relationship with your employer. Contact an attorney at Going and Plank to review your business contracts and determine if you’ve been misclassified. You may be entitled to unpaid benefits.

Violation 2: Pressuring Employees to Sign Employment Contracts Without Time for Legal Review

As an employee, you may be asked to sign a variety of contracts over the course of your employment, from the initial employment contract when you begin your job to a severance agreement when you leave. You also may receive non-compete covenants, non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality agreements, and employee handbooks. In your excitement to start a new job, you may be tempted to simply skim an employment contract before signing. That would be a mistake. A well-written contract will outline important details of your employment, such as salary and benefit information, conditions under which you may be terminated and the procedure for resolving disputes.

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If your new employer pressures you to sign on the spot, they are breaking the law. You are legally entitled to take time to review any agreement to ensure you understand it and are not signing away basic employee rights. Before you sign any contract, ask an employee rights attorney at Going and Plank to review the contract to ensure there are no problematic clauses, unreasonable terms or unclear language that could lead to problems in the future.

Violation 3: Ignoring Employee Rights by Failing to Follow Employee Handbook Policies

Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state, meaning employers generally can terminate employees at any time, and employees can quit at any time, without fear of legal liability. Employers can often use their own discretion to change their policies, apply policies selectively or ignore policies altogether. While those actions may seem unfair, they are not necessarily illegal.

If, however, those policies are part of an employee handbook, an employer may be legally bound to follow them and enforce them consistently. Employee handbooks can set forth policies on everything from paid leave and benefits to discrimination and harassment. They are often cited in legal actions and should be viewed as legal documents. If you feel your employer has engaged in illegal employment practices by violating employee handbook policies, contact a lawyer at Going and Plank to review your case. Even in an at-will state, you may have a case for wrongful termination if your employer lacks a well-written employee handbook or if they have ignored policies in their handbook.

Violation 4: Not Paying Overtime

Pennsylvania employers must comply with both state employment law and federal employment law when it comes to overtime pay, and they must offer their employees a greater benefit when there is a difference between the two. While employment laws classify certain jobs as exempt from overtime pay, all non-exempt Pennsylvania employees are entitled to overtime pay at time and a half for all hours worked beyond 40 hours in any given work 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 an attorney at Going and Plank to discuss your employee rights.

Violation 5: Punishing Employees for Complaining About Working Conditions

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Even if you are not represented by a union, federal law protects your right to engage in “protected concerted activity,” meaning you are free to discuss work-related issues such as wages and working conditions with co-workers. That right extends to the use of social media as a communication tool. The National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly ruled workers have the right to say negative things about their jobs in public forums without risk.

If your employer punishes you because of something you post on social media, they may be breaking the law. However, be careful about what you post. Personal gripes about your employer, or comments that could hurt your employer’s business or put them at legal risk, may not be protected.

If you suspect your employer is breaking the law, contact an attorney at Going and Plank to ensure your employee rights are protected.

6 ways Many Employers Break the law (and What You can do About it)

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.

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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.

The Law Offices of Going and Plank are proud to participate in the Hyatt Legal Plan. 

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