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Pennsylvania Employment Law Basics

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
If you work in Pennsylvania, you'll need to know your workplace rights.

Do you work in Pennsylvania? If so, you should know about the federal and state laws that protect you on the job. These laws prohibit discrimination, require employers to pay the minimum wage and overtime, and give employees the right to time off work for specified reasons, among other things. This article provides an introduction to your workplace rights in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Laws Prohibiting Discrimination and Harassment

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from making job decisions based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin. Additional federal laws prohibit discrimination based on age (if the employee is at least 40 years old), disability, or genetic information. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to these laws (for age discrimination, employers with at least 20 employees must comply with the law). Employers may not discriminate in any part of the employment relationship, from job posts and application forms to hiring, promotions, pay and benefits, leave, discipline, layoffs, and firing. For detailed information on federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Laws Enforced by the EEOC.

Pennsylvania law also protects employees from discrimination based on these traits. In addition, employees in Pennsylvania are protected from discrimination based on their use of a service animal or their possession of a GED rather than a high school diploma. Employers with at least four employees are subject to Pennsylvania’s state laws that prohibit discrimination. To file a complaint or learn more about Pennsylvania’s laws prohibiting discrimination, go to the website of the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission.

Harassment based on any of these protected traits is also illegal. The law defines harassment as unwelcome comments or actions that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that the victim must endure as a condition of employment. Sexual harassment is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on disability, race, and other protected traits.

If you complain about workplace harassment or discrimination, you are protected from retaliation. Your employer may not discipline, fire, or take other negative action against you because you complain within the company, to a government agency (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission), or in a lawsuit.

Your Right to Time Off Work in Pennsylvania

Many employers voluntarily offer their employees paid leave, such as vacation time, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. Although a handful of states require employers to give employees paid sick days, neither Pennsylvania nor federal law requires employers to offer paid leave.

However, employers may be required to offer unpaid leave for reasons such as:

  • Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Pennsylvania law both require employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employees must be reinstated after their leave, and may not be discriminated against based on their service. Pennsylvania employees are entitled to continue their health insurance benefits for 30 days at no cost while on military leave.
  • Family and medical leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness and caregiving, and sometimes longer. While you are on FMLA leave, your employer must continue your group health benefits. You have the right to be reinstated when your leave is through. Although some states have their own family and medical leave laws, Pennsylvania is not one of them.
  • Jury duty. Pennsylvania employers must also allow employees to take unpaid time off work for jury service, and may not threaten employees who are called for jury duty. Employees also may not lose their seniority or benefits because of their jury service.

Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Safety

In every state, including Pennsylvania, employers have a legal obligation to provide a workplace that is safe and free of known dangers. Employers must provide safe, healthy working conditions as well as the safety equipment and training required for their industry.

Employees have the right to request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection if they believe their employer has committed safety violations. It is illegal for employers to fire or otherwise retaliate against employees who complain of unsafe or hazardous working conditions.

If you suffer an on-the-job injury, you will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation. Most Pennsylvania employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides you with a percentage of your usual earnings, pays for necessary medical treatment, and provides vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.

Wage and Hour Laws in Pennsylvania

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Pennsylvania law set the wage and hour standards employers must follow, including the minimum wage, overtime, and other wage protections. Employers must pay the highest minimum wage applicable to employees, whether set by federal, state, or local law. Currently, the Pennsylvania minimum wage is the same as the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour.

If you earn tips as part of your compensation, your employer can pay you a lower minimum wage – as little as $2.83 per hour – as long as you earn enough in tips to bring your total hourly pay up to at least the state minimum wage.

Under the FLSA and Pennsylvania law, Pennsylvania employers must pay employees time and a half if they work more than 40 hours in a week. Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, however. If you fall within an exception to the overtime laws (for example, because you are a salaried manager as defined by the law), you are an exempt employee, which means you are not eligible for overtime.

You can find out more about Pennsylvania’s wage and overtime rules at the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. You can find out more about the FLSA from the Wage and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor.

When You Leave Your Job in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania employees generally work at will. This means they can be fired at any time, for any reason that is not illegal. However, even at-will employees may not be fired for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. You may not be fired, for example, for complaining about illegal discrimination or filing a wage claim for unpaid overtime.

If you are laid off or otherwise lose your job through no fault of your own (for example, you are not fired for serious misconduct and you don’t quit voluntarily), you may qualify for unemployment benefits. Once you start receiving benefits, you will have to search for work to continue receiving them. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings for 26 weeks while you are looking for a new job. To learn more (or file a claim online), visit the Office of Unemployment Compensation at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

Under a federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), you may have the right to continue your health insurance coverage after your employment ends. However, you will have to pay the full premium (including whatever portion your employer used to pay), plus up to 2% of that amount for administrative costs. You can continue these benefits for 18 to 36 months, depending on your situation.

Do You Need a Lawyer?

If you have questions about your workplace rights, you should speak to an experienced Pennsylvania employment lawyer.

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