The HR Specialist: Pennsylvania Employment Law

A random coincidence has resulted in a costly fine for a Lancaster County construction firm. OSHA cited Quality Stone Veneers for eight safety violations after an OSHA inspector noticed substandard scaffolding when he drove by a residential construction site.

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Under the state’s workers’ compensation law, Pennsylvania employees have 120 days to report workplace injuries to their employers. But em­­ployers are free to require more immediate reports. Firing the employee for breaking a timely accident reporting rule doesn’t violate the law.

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Some employees attribute perfectly reasonable actions to race dis­crimination just because the ­decision-maker happens to belong to a different protected class. Fortunately, courts usually quickly dismiss such cases.

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Here’s a reminder for harried and overworked HR professionals: Even if your anti-harassment policy states that you will investigate all harassment complaints, you don’t have to drop everything to chase down clearly meritless allegations.

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Sometimes, supervisors make dumb mistakes—for example, telling an employee that she won’t be transferred to another office because the people there don’t like co-workers of her ethnicity. If you learn of such bone-headedness, fix the problem fast.

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Disabled employees who need reasonable accommodations are entitled to what the ADA calls the interactive reasonable accommo­­dations process. What exactly that means varies by the individual and may change over time. Employers that consider the interactive process as a one-time thing may end up in court.

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When employees face discipline (or fear they might be punished soon), they’ll often file a preemptive EEOC complaint. Then, when discipline comes down, they argue that it was in retaliation for complaining. To make such a case, an employee must show that the people involved in the discipline knew about the complaint. If they didn’t, there can be no retaliation.

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Pennsylvanians filed 4,302 EEOC discrimination and retaliation complaints in fiscal year 2011—406 fewer than in 2010 but still up sharply from the 3,448 complaints filed in 2009.

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It’s perfectly legitimate to prohibit recreational travel during any approved, paid sick leave. If you also happen to substitute paid sick leave for unpaid FMLA leave, you can still enforce the same no-vacations policy.

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The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said it fired Steve Barto from his job as an environmental group manager because he intimidated employees, used racial slurs and behaved erratically. When Barto sued the DEP for allegedly violating his civil rights, he painted a different picture.

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