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Pennsylvania Employment Law Blog

Common terms overlooked in employment contracts

In 2018, scores of physicians in Pennsylvania, both experienced practitioners and those just leaving residencies, will sign employment contracts with hospitals and other health care facilities. Unfortunately, despite all their years of training and knowledge about the technical aspects of their fields, they may make mistakes when negotiating their contracts that can affect them for years to come.

Because of this, physicians must be mindful of several potential issues that can affect their future employment. This post will highlight a few of them and how an experienced attorney can help.

The basics of alcoholic employees' rights under the ADA

Alcoholism is a pervasive disease that affects millions of Americans both directly and indirectly (i.e. the family and friends of alcoholics). It often destroys lives before its victims lose their lives. This means that they commonly lose their jobs before their lives get turned upside down.

Indeed, job applicants are entitled towards privacy in regards to revealing whether they drink alcohol, since certain questions may not be used to unearth information about a potential disability. But some questions remain regarding the rights an employee with an alcohol problem may have under federal law.

Am I in a toxic workplace?

If you experience no stress at all on the job, you are one of the rare lucky ones. However, if like many other Pennsylvania employees, just the thought of going to work fills you with dread and anxiety, your workplace might be toxic.

Emotionally poisonous work environments are more common than you might think. According to polls by the Workplace Bullying Institute and other sources, 42 percent of employees in the United States quit their jobs due to workplace stress. Bullying is a major contributor to workplace toxicity, with a reported 61 percent of workplace bullies being supervisors, 33 percent being peers at the same level as their targets and 6 percent of bullies being subordinates. There are other factors that combine to form a toxic workplace. Monster.com provides the following examples:

  • Discrimination or harassment regarding your gender, sexual orientation, age or other matters
  • Constantly being asked or compelled to work overtime with little consideration for your personal life or emotional health
  • Being the target of office gossip, exclusion, backstabbing, discrediting and other employees taking credit for your work
  • Having a boss who undermines and belittles employees and yells when upset
  • Regularly witnessing these behaviors even if you are not the intended target
  • Feeling pressured to participate in bullying or exclusionary behavior to fit in or avoid retribution

Workers with disabilities face many challenges

People with disabilities can find it extremely difficult to find work in Pennsylvania and around the country, and those who are able to secure a job are often treated unfairly and earn about $1,000 less per month than workers without disabilities. The unemployment rate among working-age people with disabilities is a worryingly high 70 percent, and claims of disability-related workplace bias reached an all-time high of 28,073 in 2016, according to figures from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC is tasked with enforcing the nation's workplace discrimination laws, and the federal agency secured more than $135 million in compensation for 5,540 workers with disabilities in 2017. Employers may avoid potential sanctions by providing ergonomic tools and allowing workers who must overcome physical challenges more time to perform tasks. However, reasonable accommodations like these are rare, and this is especially true at smaller companies.

Automated systems could improve reporting of sexual harassment

When Pennsylvanians experience sexual harassment in the workplace, they often hesitate to report their problems. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 75 percent of sexual harassment incidents go unreported. To improve this situation, a handful of researchers and technology developers have begun to experiment with web-based platforms that could make it easier for victims to report problems.

Generally, people must go to their human resource departments to report harassment. However, such complaints often fall on unsympathetic ears. For example, high profile examples of sexual harassment at Uber involved HR professionals ignoring or dismissing reports. One psychologist explained that most people will either disbelieve victims or retaliate against them.

Report: IBM job cuts may be related to age discrimination

Many older employees in Pennsylvania and across the country may be concerned about the potential impact of age discrimination on their job search. These concerns may be well-founded in many cases. In a report published by Mother Jones and ProPublica in March 2018, journalists revealed that employees aged 40 and up at IBM had been subject to firings, layoffs and rushed retirement according to leaked documents and personal employee testimony. The report said that 60 percent of IBM job cuts in the U.S. over the past five years involved workers aged 40 and up.

The Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits workplace discrimination against older workers on the basis of age, and IBM denies that it has broken the law. Citing its hundred-year history, the company said that it had always complied with relevant law prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. The article alleges that the environment in the corporation changed after a 2014 focus shift. Presentations to executives allegedly included goals of changing the demographics of the company to favor "early professional hires."

Target offers settlement in discrimination case

Some Latino or black Pennsylvania residents who were denied jobs with Target since May 11, 2006, after a background check turned up a criminal conviction might be eligible for a payout or to apply for a job with the retailer with priority consideration. This was the settlement Target agreed to after a class action lawsuit was filed against the company on April 5. Target made the settlement offer, which must be approved by the court, on the same day.

The complaint was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and a law firm and focused on two plaintiffs. Jobs had been conditionally offered to both of them, but when a background check found that both had decade-old convictions, one a felony drug conviction and the other two misdemeanor convictions, the offer was withdrawn. The complaint says many people were denied jobs because they had convictions from long ago or that were irrelevant to the job they were applying for. It said that the background checks violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because they disproportionately affected black and Latino applicants.

NFL cheerleader claims discrimination

A professional cheerleader has filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging discrimination by the New Orleans Saints and the National Football League (NFL). Some Pennsylvania residents may be surprised to learn the manner in which at least one pro football organization enforces workplace rules.

Like many organizations, the New Orleans Saints have rules against fraternization. According to a cheerleader who lost her job with the organization, the manner in which the Saints enforce their policy is discriminatory. Team rules say cheerleaders and players should not interact or socialize. According to the twenty-two-year-old the policy extends to social media and occasions where cheerleaders and NFL players coincidentally find themselves eating at the same restaurants. Cheerleaders are required by the Saints to have private social media profiles and block players from contacting them. If a player enters a restaurant where a cheerleader is dining, according to the woman, the cheerleader is required to leave the premises. Players are not penalized for contacting and pursuing interactions with cheerleaders. According to the woman and other cheerleaders, the stated reason for the policies is to protect cheerleaders from players, although the burden is placed completely on the cheerleaders to identify and weed out any attempted social media requests from players, even under assumed identities.

Microsoft makes its data about sexual harassment claims public

Pennsylvania residents may be interested to learn that Microsoft has released data about its internal investigations of sexual harassment complaints. According to information originally part of a company email to Microsoft employees, the company received 83 complaints in 2017 from within its U.S. workforce of over 65,000 people.

Among these complaints, company investigations affirmed the validity of close to half of them. Terminations of employees for misconduct resulted from over half of the cases that the company found to be legitimate complaints. In the same year, Microsoft processed 84 complaints arising from accusations of gender discrimination. The company's Chief People Officer said that about 10 percent of those cases appeared to be at least partially legitimate.

Lawsuit alleges discrimination against worker with anxiety

Pennsylvania workers may be interested in the details of a lawsuit that has been filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a skilled nursing facility. The lawsuit alleges that the company discriminated against an employee by first denying her medical leave and then firing her for reasons related to a medical condition.

The employee worked at the facility in Tennessee as a laundry technician. She started her job in February 2015 and requested leave of absence in November of the same year. The reason for her request was to have time off to cope with her anxiety disorder. She was told that the Family and Medical Leave Act did not apply in her case. She was then told to bring a note from a doctor saying that she could return to work with no restrictions. She was given less than 36 hours to do this, and when she did not, she was fired.