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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.

Lancaster County Employee Handbooks: Communication, Remediation, and Protection

There are many reasons to create an employee handbook that are predicated on sharing company missions, aligning the workforce, creating a shared sense of purpose, and simply providing a set of answers to common human resource and employment questions.

In this blog entry, we’ll focus on the lawful roles of employee handbooks, and hone in on the legal benefits and challenges of creating a comprehensive employee handbook. Angela Ward is an Associate at Going and Plank and has over 20 years of experience in business law in Lancaster County and throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Ms. Ward has agreed to help us explain why creating sound employee handbooks can protect your company from lawsuits.

Legal Considerations for Employee Handbooks

By Angela M. Ward

Business-Employee-Handbook-Legal-HR-Lawyer-attorney-Lancaster-PAMost businesses in Lancaster County and throughout our area are aware that Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state. At-will generally means that an employer can terminate employees at any time, or that employees can quit at any time, without fear of legal liability. However, Pennsylvania’s at-will status does not protect companies from wrongful termination suits or discrimination charges. That means that employers must ensure that employment decisions are fair, thoroughly documented, and supported by well-communicated policies and procedures.

Whether you’re a large or small business, you’ll need to share company policies with your employees. Mapping out basic information such as introductory or probation periods, employee benefits, hours of work, overtime policy, dress code, paid time off such as personal days or vacation days, and the use of personal phones and social media are at the foundation of even the simplest handbooks.

Employee Handbooks are an Incredibly Practical Tool

Many companies also find that an employee handbook is a great place to share a mission statement, a vision for their industry, expectations for attitude and customer services, and company values.

Your handbook is also a good place to share that you are an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) employer, include legally-mandated language on pay deductions, publish payday schedules, outline benefits, state policies on jury duty and military leave, communicate your policy on unpaid leaves of absence, and, if you have more than 15 employees, discuss your compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Employee Handbooks Explain Redress of Grievances

By thoroughly explaining procedures for submitting complaints, protests, accusations, or whistleblowing, you give your employees a clear path for sharing unethical or illegal behavior. Employee handbooks should offer a  practical way to address workplace issues before they grow into legal problems. When our team at Going and Plank helps companies with employee handbooks, we review your procedures to make sure processes comply with state and national employment law. We may also recommend additional systems and methods that you can put in place to ensure your management team is able to deal with conflicts effectively and legally.

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Employee Handbooks can Provide Legal Protection

Businesses can protect themselves in some measure from wrongful termination suits if they create and share well-crafted employee handbooks. These companies can protect themselves legally by requiring that all employees review and sign handbooks when hired. Companies should also require similar reviews and signatures whenever handbooks are edited or updated.

When creating or editing your company’s employee handbook, it’s critical that you clearly state that your handbook is NOT an employment contract. If your handbook is not clear on this point, plaintiffs may charge that the handbook substituted as an employment contract and may use it as a tool to override the at-will relationship. Employees can also use the lack of an employee handbook as the basis for a wrongful termination action.

There is a long list of Pennsylvania court cases challenging the role of the employee handbook. The well-documented legal liabilities created by the lack of an adequate handbook should convince companies to take handbooks seriously. An employee handbook is the foundation of a legally-sound approach for dealing with at-will employment, company expectations, discrimination and harassment policies, and termination procedures.

Is Your Employee Handbook Doing its job?

Some companies consider an employee handbook as an optional tool that’s “nice to have” but not essential. As numerous Pennsylvania lawsuits can illustrate, an inadequate handbook can fail to protect you in court. Operating without a handbook leaves you even more vulnerable to legal action. That’s why creating a solid, comprehensive employee handbook is an excellent investment of time and money.

Employee Handbooks are Legal Documents

Because employee handbooks are often cited in legal actions, companies should consider a handbook to be a legal document. Whether you ask your business lawyer to create a handbook or to examine existing documents, legal review is essential. If you’d like to talk to Going and Plank about creating or reviewing an employee handbook, contact us today.

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