The HR Specialist: Pennsylvania Employment Law

Employees who complain that a co-worker is being sexually harassed by a supervisor may be engaging in protected activity. That’s because a good-faith complaint may amount to opposition to a discriminatory employment practice. Punishing that employee may then be illegal retaliation.

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Federal and state public health agencies are closely monitoring the H1N1 influenza (also known as swine flu) that was first identified this spring. Since then, every state in the U.S. has had confirmed cases of the virus. It’s not time to panic—but it is time for businesses to think strategically, be proactive and be prepared.

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Some employees with genuine disabilities think they can use their health conditions as excuses to break workplace rules regulating behavior. They can’t, if managers genuinely believe the employee violated the rules, and those rules are clear and equitably enforced.

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The Workers United union has filed criminal charges with the Philadelphia Police Department against food-service giant Aramark, alleging that the company has pocketed union dues deducted from employees’ paychecks. Aramark manages concessions at Citizens Bank Park, the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, plus 40 other arenas in the U.S. and Canada.

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With news from Capitol Hill that the “card-check” provision has been dropped from the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), employers need to be concerned that passage of the controversial pro-union legislation is now more likely than ever. In exchange for dropping card checks, EFCA backers gained three incredibly powerful proposals that will dramatically increase union ability to win elections.

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Employees who work for government agencies have a few additional rights that privately employed workers don’t enjoy. One is the right to speak out on matters of public importance. That right, however, is quite limited. Even so, some public employees think they can say anything about their supervisors and not be disciplined. That just isn’t so.

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Some employees are more sensitive to potential sexual harassment than others. What some might disregard as innocent flirtation, others might consider an unwelcome come-on. Courts often throw out harassment suits that start that way, but why tempt fate—or spend time and money defending yourself?

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When a supervisor says something insensitive, employers must fix the problem and then make sure the comment doesn’t reflect some sort of deep bias. Follow up on the comment with appropriate discipline and then check to see that any discipline recommended by the supervisor is based on independently verifiable information.

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If an employee rebuffs your offers to consider her for ADA accommodations or FMLA leave, make sure you document her desires. That way, she can’t come back later and claim you didn’t accommodate her or give her leave.

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Remember: Pennsylvania employees have just 300 days to file an EEOC complaint.

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