Changes To The Contract
As noted previously, employment in Pennsylvania is generally “at will” meaning the employer and employee can end the employment relationship at any time for any or no reason and with or without prior notice. Most “at-will” employees do not have employment contracts and, as such, an employer can unilaterally change the terms and conditions of employment. If an employer is going to modify an employee’s wages, the employer must provide notice to the employee before the change goes into effect. If there is an employment agreement or a collective bargaining agreement, the terms of those agreements will control and changes to the terms of those agreements may only be made with the consent of both/all parties.
Change In Ownership Of The Business
Federal law requires that employers with 100 or more employees give employees 60 days’ prior notice (or 60 days’ pay) in the event of plant closings or mass layoffs that affect a certain threshold number of employees. Though Pennsylvania does not have a similar notification requirement, Philadelphia requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide 60 days’ notice in the event of a permanent closure or transfer of the business location. Collective bargaining agreements or the presence of a union may also impose certain obligations on employers when there is a change in the ownership of a business.
Social Security Contributions
There are mandatory federal social security contributions that must be made by both the employer and the employee.
Accidents At Work
Federal law requires employers to keep logs of all accidents at work. Pennsylvania law requires employers to maintain insurance to provide compensation to employees who suffer workplace injuries, in order to cover medical care, rehabilitation services and partial wage loss. Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law is generally the exclusive remedy for such injuries, and thus bars separate tort liability for employers under most circumstances.
Discipline And Grievance
Pennsylvania has no specific rules governing discipline and/or grievance procedures. If there is an applicable employment agreement or collective bargaining agreement, such agreements may provide guidelines and/or limitations on discipline and/or grievance procedures. Although not required, many employers provide non-contractual guidelines for the handling of disciplinary procedures in their employee handbooks.
Federal and state law prohibit harassment and discrimination against employees on the basis of certain protected characteristics. In addition to federal law, Pennsylvania specifically protects employees from discrimination and harassment on the basis of their race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, non-job related handicap or disability, and the use of a guide or support animal because of blindness, deafness or physical handicap. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has issued formal guidance interpreting sex discrimination as encompassing discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Local ordinances may explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The concept of equal pay is recognized by federal and state legislation.
Compulsory Training Obligations
In general, there are no training obligations for employers in Pennsylvania. However, there may be certain licenses, certificates or trainings required to work in certain industries, trades, or professions. Employers are still advised to train managers and employees on harassment (including but not limited to sexual harassment), discrimination and retaliation prevention, including how to raise an internal complaint of any such concerns.
State law prohibits deducting employee debts from employee earnings unless there is a specific written authorization by the employee for such a deduction. In addition, federal and state law require the payment of at least minimum wage for all hours worked during all pay periods and offsets for employee debts may not result in a payment of less than minimum wage.
Payments For Maternity And Disability Leave
There are no mandated payments for disability leave but if an employer provides paid disability leave it must treat maternity leave the same as disability leave and pay pregnant employees while on maternity leave to the extent they are unable to work.
There is compulsory workers compensation and unemployment insurance. Employers pay for workers compensation insurance. Employers and taxpayers pay for unemployment insurance.
Workers who are independent contractors do not generally qualify for unemployment compensation and businesses need not pay unemployment taxes for independent contractors. That said, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently clarified and narrowed the test for determining whether an individual is an independent contractor under Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation law.
This means that a broader range of workers may be considered employees for purposes of determining unemployment taxes and compensation eligibility.
Absence For Military Or Public Service Duties
Federal law establishes the requirements for military leave. Employers generally are required to keep the job open/available while on military leave and reinstate employees upon their return from military service, which includes restoring their job position and benefits that they would have had if not for their military duty and leave. Employers are not required to pay employees while they are on military leave. There are no requirements for public service leave.
Pennsylvania law requires that if an employee goes on leave for active duty, the employer must continue the employee's group health insurance coverage for the first thirty days of active duty at no cost to the employee.
Pennsylvania law also provides certain protections for employees who are emergency responders, including volunteer fire fighters, volunteer fire police officers or volunteer members of an ambulance service or rescue squad. Such employees may be late for or absent from work if their absence was due to responding to an emergency.
Pennsylvania employers generally must permit unpaid leave for employees to respond to a jury summons and/or serve on a jury.
Works Councils or Trade Unions
Under federal law employees can force the employer to recognize a union as the representative of employees in a defined bargaining unit by petitioning for and winning an election by majority vote. Federal law also provides certain protections for individuals who engage in concerted activities, such as supporting a union or participating in an organizing drive. Pennsylvania is not a “right-to-work” state, which means it does not prevent collective bargaining agreements from requiring union membership as a condition of employment. In contrast, over half of the states in the US have adopted some form of right-to-work legislation.
Employees’ Right To Strike
Under federal law, groups of employees may strike, even if there is not a collective bargaining agreement or formal union at the site of employment, subject to limits for employees who provide certain public services. Under Pennsylvania law, engaging in a strike is not a qualified reason to collect unemployment compensation.
Employees On Strike
Typically, employees on strike cannot be terminated from employment unless the employees engage in serious misconduct while on strike or the strike was unlawful and unprotected. However, if employees are on an economic strike, they may be permanently replaced by the employer and may be denied reinstatement if there are no open positions at the end of the strike and until appropriate positions become available.
Employers’ Responsibility For Actions Of Their Employees
Employers are responsible under common law agency principles for actions of their employees that occur within the scope of their employment. Employers generally are not responsible for employees’ actions outside the scope of their employment. Pennsylvania employers may be liable for harassment by supervisory/management employees.