Articles Posted in Wage and Hour

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Employees of Advanced Oilfield Services L.L.C., Bimbo Bakeries USA Inc., and Wizzard Drain Cleaning L.L.C. have claimed that the companies failed to pay for overtime wages for workers. Employers failing to pay proper wages for hours worked is common. In 2015, nearly 9,000 claims were brought against employers for wage and hour related issues.

Under Pennsylvania law, employers are required to pay most employees overtime or “time-and-a-half” wages for any hours worked over 40 hours a week. For example, if you make the Pennsylvania state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and qualify for overtime pay, you would earn $10.88 an hour for every hour you work over 40 hours a week. Certain workers are not covered by Pennsylvania laws and Federal laws regarding overtime pay based on their job duties. This means that an employer is not required to pay workers that perform certain duties extra wages for time worked over 40 hours a week.

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Employers may use different ways to prevent paying overtime wages you are owed. Employers may classify an employee as an Independent Contractor or an “Exempt” Salaried employee. Employers may even offer to shift time between weeks. For example, if you worked 60 hours one week, an employer might allow you to work 20 hours the next. These kinds of shifting time schemes are often illegal.

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As many Pennsylvanians still struggle to find employment, Rep. Ed Neilson of the 169th Legislative District of Philadelphia County is hoping to protect their rights by introducing legislation that will provide more information to temporary workers who find jobs through employment agencies.

In December, Rep. Neilson sent a letter to fellow members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives explaining that the legislation he is introducing will make sure temp workers have the basic information they need to carry out their work “in a safe and prepared manner.” He also hopes to limit the fees charged to temporary workers by employment agencies. In his letter, he said that temporary workers should feel that the employment agency “has treated them fairly and communicated in an open and honest fashion.”

We’ll watch to see what develops from this new legislation.

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This week, J.C. Penney announced it was cutting 2,000 jobs and closing 33 stores, including one in Hazleton in the Laural Mall. A total of 3 stores will be closed here in Pennsylvania, including a store in Exton and another in Washington, PA.

According to an article on CNN.com, the store closings are an effort to get control of expenses. The closing should be completed by May.

The article explained that Penney’s stocks have fallen 60% in the past year. Penney’s annoucement follows an announcement last week by Macy’s, that is laying off 2,500 workers and closing five stores.

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We read an article in the Pennsylvania Record (pennrecord.com) last week about a Chester County woman who is suing her ex-employer for wrongful termination after she believes that she was fired following a slip and fall incident where she injured her foot leaving work.

The woman was leaving her work at the Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville in February of 2011 when she fell and fractured her right foot. From February until December of that year, she was either absent from work under the Workers’ Comp act or she worked with limitations. The employee underwent surgery in November of that year to repair her injury. Her surgeon signed a certification of healthcare form confirming that the injured employee would be incapacitated through January of 2012 because of her injuries and would be limited in any work activities that involved walking, standing, or lifting. A few weeks later, the hospital terminated the injured employee.

According to the article, the employee is now suing the hospital, claiming that she was fired because of her injury. The article notes that the employee feels the hospital is retaliating and interfering with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. She is seeking to reinstate her job as well as restoring her leave and medical benefits and punitive damages.

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On Jan. 1, the Unemployment Compensation Solvency legislation (Act 60) went into effect in Pennsylvania, limiting unemployment compensation benefits for seasonal workers. This means that workers who made 50.5 percent of their annual income or more in one quarter are no longer eligible for benefits. Previously, the limit was 63 percent.

An article on the RepublicanHerald.com notes that the maximum weekly benefit of $573 will be frozen until 2019. According to the governor, the change should affect less than 10 percent of the unemployed, but will save the state $276 million annually. The legislation is intended to help reduce the state’s $4 billion debt borrowed from federal unemployment benefits.

Unfortunately for Schuylkill County, we have a lot of seasonal workers who are employed by local golf courses, amusement parks, and ski resorts. There are also a lot of construction workers in the county. In the article, Rep. Neal Goodman is quoted as saying, “This is not the fault of employer or the employees. Gov. Corbett is trying to eliminate as many people from unemployment as possible. The truth of the matter is that these are some of the hardest workers you will find. They are seasonal workers but they work a lot of hours.”

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In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama said that he wanted to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour in an effort to help working Americans out of poverty. An article on CNNMoney.com explains that this increase would make a full-time job that pays $9 an hour work out to $18,000 a year. Although this increase would certainly help working Americans, the poverty line for a four-person household is about $23,300 per year.

What could help families more would be the president’s recommendation to tie minimum wage to inflation, which according to the article, could prevent its value from being eroded over time. Advocates also say that helping people find higher paying jobs is also important.

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In late summer 2011, we blogged about an incident at a Hershey Co. distribution center in Palmyra, when a large group of foreign exchange students walked off their jobs for being overworked and underpaid. Over a year later, their protest paid off: in later 2012, federal officials said $213,000 in back wages will be paid to the over 1,000 foreign students, as well as $143,000 in fines.

According to an article on PennLive.com, the back wages and penalties are part of a settlement involving Exel inc., SHS Staffing Solutions, and the Council for Educational Travel-USA (CET-USA), which matched foreign students with jobs as part of an educational exchange program. Exel ran the Palmyra distribution center under a contract with The Hershey Co., which has said it was not directly involved with the students’ wages and working conditions.

Students said they were overworked, underpaid, and charged excessive rent by the host organization — terms and conditions that were very different than what they signed up for. One student said she was paid $8.35 an hour and charged $400 a month for rent, which was deducted from her paycheck. She also said she had little opportunity to visit American cities and learn about the country, as she had expected.

The walkout was organized by the National Guest Worker Alliance and led to protests against The Hershey Co. It led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The SHS Group, under contract with Exel, hired the students and placed them at the Palmyra site. SHS was penalized for repeat violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Exel, SHS, and CETUSA shared the cost of the back wages. The civil penalties were assessed to Exel.

In addition to the settlement, Exel must implement measures to prevent labor- and safety-related violations at all of Exel’s facilities across the United States. They must comply with minimum wage and overtime laws, maintain a hotline for workers who believe their rights were violated, and maintain a log of all labor law violations related to the company for the next three years. They must also implement a hearing protection program at the Palmyra facility as well as address noise at all its facilities.

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Slower than expected coal sales are to blame for a temporary layoff of workers at Blaschak Coal Corporation. According to an article on the RepublicanHerald.com, the layoff affects workers at the company’s three mining operations in Centralia, Primrose, and Lattimer.

Blaschak’s president and chief executive officer is quoted in the article as saying, “What we have done is suspend our mining operations for three weeks, with everyone back at work on Dec. 3. This went into effect on Nov. 12.”

Although the company has had a strong mining year so far, slower coal sales have left them with an increased amount of coal mined until they can reduce their inventory of coal.

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This week the HumanResourcesJournal.com published an interesting article for those applying for or currently using time from the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You should be aware that some companies are taking measures to combat excessive employee absenteeism and to ensure that employees are not abusing FMLA leave.

The article gave the case of a 20-year manufacturing employee who had had been approved for FMLA leave on 5 occasions from 2004 to 2007 to take care of his mother. But in 2006, the company implemented a new plan for handling medical-leave requests that involved private investigators conduct surveillance on employees with unexcused absences or those who were thought to be exploiting medical leave.

Through their investigation, a sign-out sheet showed the man had not taken his mother out of the nursing home on other occasions of FMLA leave, although he claimed he was the only one who could drive his mother, but that others had signed her out. He was eventually fired for policy violation.

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Earlier this summer, Connecticut’s governor signed into law a bill that would allow firefighters with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

The new legislation includes firefigthers who are diagnosed with PTSD after witnessing the death of a fellow firefighter while in the line of duty. This includes bother volunteer firefighters and paid firefighters employed by cities. In order to qualify, the diagnosis must be made by a licensed adn board certified mental health professional. Currently, Connecticut police officers receive the same type of compensation.

Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder can include flashbacks or repeated nightmares of the event, having a lack of interest in normal activities, as well as having an exaggerated response to things that startle you.