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Articles Posted in Wage and Hour

On October 3, 2020, Pennsylvania established a new overtime rule that will allow more workers to be eligible for overtime wages. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Secretary, Jerry Oleksiak, stated in a press release that “the modernized regulation will expand eligibility for overtime to 143,000 people and strengthen overtime protections for up to 251,000 or more. This final rule ensures that employees who work overtime are fairly and fully compensated for their labor in accordance with the original intent of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act.”

Secretary Oleksiak also said that the new rule will be the first update to overtime regulations in over 40 years. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has created a three-phase plan that will gradually increase the minimum salary for workers to receive overtime. As listed on the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s website, the first phase that was initiated on January 1, 2020 included workers who make $684 a week and $35,568 annually. October 3, 2021 will start the next phase consisting of people who make $780 a week and $40,560 a year. Finally, the last phase of people who make $875 weekly and $45,500 yearly will be eligible starting on October 3, 2022. Following the three stages, the Department plans to adjust the threshold every three years automatically.

There are other eligibility requirements that have not changed in order for people to receive overtime wages. Most hourly workers that work over 40 hours a week will be considered for overtime. In addition to employees that work more than 40 hours weekly, most workers who make less than the listed salary can also earn overtime payment. This requirement does not include the workers’ job duties. Finally, a majority of employees who are paid salary are eligible if they do not complete executive, administrative, or professional duties; the amount of money people make are not included in the requirement. However, there are other circumstances in which people are unable to receive overtime payments. For example, employees who are paid salary, make more than the listed annual salary, and preform executive, administrative, or professional duties will not be considered for overtime wages.

Quad Graphics, a company with facilities all over the world, will be closing its Humboldt Industrial Park location on June 1, 2018.  The closing of the Hazleton area plant will lead to around 165 people being out of work.  Employees were made aware of the closing at a meeting on March 23rd.

Quad Graphics acquired the Hazleton facility as part of its purchase of World Color Press in July 2010.  Quad Graphics specializes in producing printed phonebooks and directories.  Many employees anticipated this closure with the decline of the printing industry.  With so much information available in digital form the need for printed phone books and directories has become outdated and almost obsolete.

After the Friday meeting, alerting them of the closure, employees were sent home for safety reasons.  Officials did not want employees continuing to work dealing with the news that they would be losing their jobs in a few months. Officials with the company said these 165 workers will not be offered a position at Quad Graphic’s other facilities.  According to the press release, full-time employees represented by the union are part of a collective bargaining agreement that provides severance pay.  All other employees will receive separation benefits that include pay, extension of healthcare and assistance with career outplacement.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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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