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Pennsylvania wage & hour law: Understand the new rules for 2007

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in Compensation and Benefits,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

New wage and hour laws came in with the new year for Pennsylvania employers. Hidden in the new minimum-wage law fine print is a new set of rules governing everything from meal breaks to comp time.

Some policies are held over from the previous law, but some are brand new. And even though small employers won a break on the minimum wage, all employers have to abide by the rest of the new law.

Overtime and comp time. Pennsylvania follows federal law in regard to overtime and compensatory time.

Unlike some other states that allow comp time in very limited cases, Pennsylvania did not change this part of its law. Employers must pay all nonexempt employees time and a half for all hours beyond 40 hours worked in a week. In Pennsylvania, you can’t allow employees to take compensatory time off in lieu of payment.

If you pay a nonexempt employee a salary, you must still pay overtime for hours worked over 40 in a week. The salary would be prorated to produce an hourly rate for overtime computation.

Pennsylvania law does permit mandatory overtime. If employees refuse to work mandatory overtime, you can discipline or terminate them legally under state law. (A collective-bargaining agreement may restrict an employer’s options in this regard, but state law does not.)

Warning: Make sure you don’t violate the ADA or FMLA when mandating overtime. 

Vacation/leave/holiday pay. State law doesn’t require employers to provide vacation or sick leave or pay employees additional money for working on a holiday. Each of these issues is a matter of employer policy.

So long as employers enforce their policies fairly, they won’t violate state or federal law.

Breaks and meal periods. Pennsylvania employers must provide break periods of at least 30 minutes to minor employees (ages 14 through 17) if they work five or more consecutive hours. State law doesn’t require employers to provide breaks for workers 18 and over.

However, if an employer does provide a break of 20 minutes or less, the employee must be paid for that time. Employers are not required to pay employees for meal periods if the periods last more than 20 minutes.

Altering employees’ pay. Employers can change employees’ pay rates simply by giving them notice of the change. The change becomes effective on the next normally scheduled payday. Obviously, contracts or collective-bargaining agreements specifying pay rates would limit employer actions.

Deductions & pay stubs. Other than taxes, employers may not make deductions from employee paychecks unless the employee provides specific written permission to make those deductions. Employees can’t simply give employers a blanket authorization to deduct. Each deduction authorization must be specific as to the reason, amount and duration of the authorization.

All deductions must be for the benefit of the employee and may not reduce the employee’s gross pay below minimum wage of $ 6.25 per hour for most employers, $5.65 for small employers. The law defines small employers as those paying fewer than the equivalent of 10 full-time workers each pay period. These rates will rise to $7.15 and $6.15, respectively, on July 1, 2007.

Pay stubs for nonexempt personnel must display the number of hours worked during the pay period, the pay period’s beginning and ending dates, the hourly rate and the amount the employee earned. All deductions must also be listed including both tax-related and employee authorized deductions.

Enforcement. Employees who feel they weren’t paid the minimum wage or were not properly compensated for overtime have two years to file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry.

Claims for straight time or other benefits promised by an employer may be filed within three years of the alleged violation. The law requires employers to keep payroll records for three years.

Red flags. Wage-and-hour issues are hot enforcement areas for both state and federal labor departments. Employers must have solid recordkeeping and time-tracking programs in place to ensure compliance. Bad record-keeping will often trigger additional scrutiny from labor department investigators.

Employers who do not consistently enforce pay policies also are asking for trouble. Playing favorites always makes someone mad, and when it involves wage-and-hour issues, the angry party has a weapon to wield.  

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