The HR Specialist: Pennsylvania Employment Law

The key issue in most race discrimination cases: different treatment for people of different races. A court recently ruled that it wasn’t protected activity when a black employee complained that one black job applicant had been subjected to greater scrutiny than another black applicant.

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It’s a perennial puzzle: How should employers handle it when an em­­ployee has an FMLA-covered serious health condition that is also an ADA disability? Answer: Consider FMLA leave the minimum amount of un­­paid leave the employee can take.

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What striking workers say on the picket line is largely protected speech, even if it’s offensive. What’s said on the picket line is protected speech under federal law, not willful misconduct under Pennsylvania law.

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Federal appeals courts are becoming more sympathetic to employees who report workplace dangers. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has backed a plaintiff who says he suffered retaliation for claiming he was traumatized by a workplace accident.

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Even when two or more employees break the same rule, each may not deserve the same punishment. But if you don’t document why each case is different, a judge or jury could decide that discrimination was your motive for punishing one employee more severely.

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Respond ASAP with swift discipline the first time someone levels sexual or anti-female taunts at an employee. Otherwise, the problem will grow. You may not realize something is wrong until the victim quits and sues.

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HR pros often think twice before disciplining an employee who has complained of a serious workplace problem such as sexual harassment. It’s natural to worry about an add-on retaliation claim. But as long as discipline is clearly warranted, don’t second-guess yourself.

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Because damages are unlimited in Pennsylvania common-law tort claims, disgruntled employees and their attorneys sometimes try to turn run-of-the-mill harassment cases into intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress lawsuits. The payoff can be huge.

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Many employers are seeing a surge in requests for intermittent leave when an employee has a parent or child who needs help getting to medical appointments or undergoing treatments. Before you approve a request for such intermittent leave, make sure you are satisfied with the medical certification.

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Sometimes, an employee does something so outrageous that you have no choice but to fire her. If she sues, you may worry that her past good reviews will create trouble. They won’t if you documented the incident leading to the discharge.

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