Pennsylvania Labor Laws

Pennsylvania labor laws are legislation to protect employees from unfair or unjust treatment when working in the state. These laws protect against discrimination and ensure that employers pay overtime pay and minimum wage, among several other aspects of employment. Labor laws help regulate a variety of employment situations and aim to address little problems before they become big ones.

Prohibition Against Discrimination and Harassment

Employers are federally prohibited, according to Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, from making decisions on jobs based on:

  • National origin
  • Sex (including pregnancy)
  • Religion
  • Race
  • Or color

There are additional federal protections that ensure employers cannot discriminate against employees or potential employees based on:

  • Genetic information
  • Age (in the event that the employee is 40 years old or older)
  • Or disability

Employers cannot discriminate against employees or potential employees that fall into any of these protected classes in regard to:

  • Layoffs
  • Discipline
  • Firing
  • Job postings
  • Applications
  • Hiring
  • Pay and benefits
  • Leave
  • Promotions

In addition to federal protections, employees in Pennsylvania are protected against these same discriminations by state employment laws.

There are additional state-level protections for employees in Pennsylvania, who use a service dog or those who have a GED instead of a high school diploma.

It is illegal to harass employees in regard to these protected classes and traits. According to the law, harassment is any unwanted action or comment that makes the workplace offensive or hostile, especially if the employee is required to accept and endure the harassment as a condition of employment.

Employees have the right to bring harassment to the attention of superiors. Employees are protected by law from retaliation if they make a complaint about the harassment. Employees are prohibited from taking any negative action, including disciplinary action or firing, if an employee complains to a government agency, the company, or files a lawsuit.

Time Off Work

According to Pennsylvania law, employers are required to allow employees to take time off work for military duty or service, whether that is federal or state military. When an employee comes back from military leave, they must be reinstated to their position, and not discriminated against because of their service. While on military leave, employees in Pennsylvania are allowed to continue receiving health insurance benefits for at least 30 days at no cost.

Employers who have at least 50 employees are required to follow the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This allows employees who fit eligibility requirements up to 12 weeks of nonpaid time off each year for caregiving or illness. While an employee is on FMLA, employers are required to continue group health benefits. Employees on FMLA leave have the right to be reinstated to their position or a similar position with the same salary, benefits, and other employment options when their leave is over.

Employers in Pennsylvania are additionally required to allow time off work, unpaid, for jury duty. The employee cannot be threatened in any way for taking time off work for jury duty. In addition, seniority and other employment benefits cannot be lost because of serving on a jury.

Safety in the Workplace and Workers' Compensation

In all states, including Pennsylvania, employers are obligated to offer a safe and secure workplace that is free of any known dangers. Working conditions must be healthy and safe, and safety equipment required for the industry must be accessible. Employers must provide safety training to anyone taking on jobs in positions or industries requiring such an education.

Employees who are concerned about the safety of their workspace can request an inspection from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee who files a complaint about hazardous or unsafe conditions in the workplace.

Employees who get an injury on the job may be eligible for workers' compensation. The majority of employers in Pennsylvania are required to have workers' compensation insurance through a certified insurance provider.

When employees get worker's compensation, they get a pre-determined percentage of their normal pay. This insurance also pays for medical treatments that are deemed necessary, as well as vocational rehabilitation.

Hour and Wage Laws in Pennsylvania

Both Pennsylvania and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) have set standards for wages and hours. Employers are required to follow these laws, which include protections for overtime, minimum wage, and other wage related issues.

Employers have to pay the highest applicable minimum wage, whether that is set by local, state, or federal law. The current minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25 per hour, which is the same as the federal minimum wage.

Employees who receive tips as part of their overall compensation can by law receive a lower minimum wage. This is currently set at $2.83 per hour for Pennsylvania. However, the tips earned have to bring the average hourly pay to the state minimum wage or higher.

When an employee works more than 40 hours in a week, the extra time on the job must be paid at one and a half times the employee's normal hourly rate. Keep in mind that not all employees are eligible to receive overtime pay. Exempt employees, such as managers who are salaried, are not eligible for this.

Leaving a Job in Pennsylvania

The majority of careers and positions in Pennsylvania are considered at-will jobs. Employees in an at-will position can lose their job for any reason, at any time, and it is not illegal. However, protections do still apply for at-will employees. Employees cannot be fired for retaliatory or discriminatory reasons.

Severance pay is not legally mandated in Pennsylvania and employers do not have to offer it to employees.

Employees who are fired, laid off, or otherwise lose their job for reasons outside their control may qualify for unemployment pay and benefits. When people start getting unemployment benefits, they are required to search for a new job if they wish to continue receiving their pay and benefits. Eligible individuals receive a percentage of their previous hourly or salary pay for up to a total of 26 weeks.

The Consolidation Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), a federal law, gives employees the right to keep health insurance benefits even after they have lost or left their employment. Employees who wish to keep their insurance benefits are required to pay the entire premium, both the employee and employer portions, plus an additional 2 percent to cover administrative costs. Depending on the individual situation, COBRA benefits can be kept for 18 or 36 months.

Work Break Laws in Pennsylvania

The only employers required to offer breaks to employees in Pennsylvania are those who hire seasonal farmworkers. The law states that these employees are allowed a 30-minute break for every five hours of work in a workday. During this break, employees are not responsible for any work-related duties, and the break can be unpaid.

Meal and rest breaks are not legally mandated for any other industries or employers. However, union contracts and employment agreements may specify rest breaks and meal times. Companies that engage in these agreements are then required by Pennsylvania law to follow the agreement. If employees are concerned that their contract or agreement is violated, there are generally provisions in the contract on how to deal with this violation.

Reasonable bathroom breaks are required to be given to all employees, under both Pennsylvania law and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Employers not allowing employees to take bathroom breaks may find themselves with a formal OSHA complaint or lawsuit.

In addition, both Pennsylvania and federal labor law require all companies allow at least unpaid breaks for employees who are breast-feeding, as needed.

Children ages 14 to 19 working five hours or more at once have special protections when it comes to breaks. These employees get, by law, at minimum a 30-minute meal break. This break can be either paid or unpaid, depending on the employment agreement. Rest breaks that are under 20 minutes and given to employees under the age of 18 must be paid breaks.

Paid and Unpaid Breaks According to Federal Law

According to federal law, all employers throughout the country are required to pay employees for all worked hours. This includes any time that the employer has set aside as a designated rest break. Any break that is five to 20 minutes is considered a short rest break, and is considered part of the employee's work day. These short breaks must be paid at the employee's normal hourly rate.

Employers are not required to pay for meal breaks. These breaks have the following criteria:

  • More than 20 minutes
  • Employee is not required or expected to perform any work duties
  • The break is scheduled for the purpose of eating a meal during the scheduled work day

Keep in mind that employers are not required to allow employees taking a lunch break to leave the work site. This is generally negotiated as part of the employment contract but is solely up to the employer.

Federal law does not require any breaks be offered to employees. The majority of companies allow for rest and meal breaks, however, because this improves morale and productivity.

Federal Law Regarding Employee Benefit Security

Employers who offer welfare benefits or pension plans are regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Employee Benefits Security Administration administers this act. They require a variety of information and reporting on welfare benefits and pension plans, including:

  • Disclosure and reporting of current plans
  • Updates to any plans
  • Fiduciary requirements

Any company offering these plans is required to use an insurance system to fund and protect different types of benefits for retirement. Premiums for these plans are paid to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

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