A new Pennsylvania law holds the employer responsible when an employee uses a work computer for child porn. Every employer needs to be aware of this change, because it highlights a recent trend under federal and state law of holding employers responsible for crimes of child exploitation by workers.
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling requires the employer to act when notified of employee use of a company computer or a company network to view child pornography — even a single image viewed one time, even if the employee claims the site was accessed accidentally.
More states are placing the burden on employers to eliminate such conduct by employees, even on company laptops that the employee takes home.
By law, IT workers in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota must report the discovery of child pornography on any work computer to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. An employer who fails to report such images is subject to fines and even jail time.
Employers should consider implementing an Internet policy that any employee who downloads or views child pornography on a work computer or network is immediately terminated. In one recent ruling, the appeals court found that the employer has a duty to report even a single incidence (more…)
On July 24, 2009 the Pennsylvania minimum wage increased by 10 cents, from $7.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour.
Many employers wonder why all the fuss about such a small amount of money. However, under state law the Pennsylvania minimum wage cannot be less than the federal minimum wage. When the federal rate increases by 70 cents from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour later this month, by statute, the Pennsylvania minimum wage must increase, as well.
The last increase to the Pennsylvania minimum wage was to $7.15 per hour on January 1, 2007.
Each time the federal or Pennsylvania minimum wage increases, employers must display updated labor law posters.
Both the Pennsylvania minimum wage and the federal minimum wage increased in 2007 from $5.15 to $5.85 and again in 2008 from $5.85 to $6.55.
The Pennsylvania minimum wage for tipped employees remains at $2.83 per hour. However, if the employee does not average $4.42 per hour in tips over the payroll period, the employer must pay the difference.
The new federal minimum wage essentially eliminates the Pennsylvania training wage. Under state law, an employee under the age of 20 could be paid a lower “training wage” equal to the federal minimum wage during the first 60 days of employment. However, under the current law, the federal and state minimum wage are the same and employers must pay the minimum wage from the first day of employment.
Though this increase may create hardship for employers in this struggling economy, 2009 is the last scheduled increase for the federal minimum rate. At this time, no increase is scheduled for 2010.
Pennsylvania state minimum wage covers the smaller employers. The Pennsylvania minimum wage law is enforced by the Bureau of Labor Law Compliance, a part of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
The remaining companies are covered by the (more…)
Pennsylvania employers will receive a welcome infusion of highly trained workers due to two recent training grants totaling more than $3.7 million.
According to a recent announcement made by the U. S. Department of Labor, the President’s Community-Based Job Training Grants Initiative awarded $125 million to 69 community colleges across the United States, including two to Pennsylvania.
The competition was announced in August of 2007, and a total of 341 applications were received. The funds go to training facilities and community colleges to aid workers in competing for high-growth industry jobs.
“Preparing local residents for careers in growing hometown industries is critical to improving the quality of life of thousands of Americans,” said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Brent R. Orrell. “These programs will provide participants not only with the skills needed to gain employment, but the change to enter into careers that offer opportunities for advancement.”
Both programs were identified by employers as able to produce workers with skills that are needed now and in the immediate future.
The focus of the Grants program is to boost the community college’s role in aiding American workers, and to assist these workers in gaining high-paying jobs with advancement.
To achieve this goal, the grants provide funding for community colleges in areas where industries need workers with a particular type of training. For example, several biotechnology labs in California are seeking trained employees. The Community Based Job Training Grant could be awarded to a community college near these labs, in order to train workers for those positions.
Due to advances in technology and innovation, to globalization and to a workforce that is aging, many industries are in dire need of skilled workers. Nationwide, these industries include biotechnology, logistics and advanced manufacturing.
Employees whose relatives are soldiers now qualify for as much as 26 weeks of unpaid annual leave under a new law.
The law has already gone into effect, and the U.S. Labor Department is rushing to develop a set of regulations built around the legislation.
Until then, employers are expected to comply with the law “in good faith.” The Labor Department plans to publish more information as it becomes available. That may take several weeks.
The law, called the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (NDAA), expands the traditional 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave to this group of qualifying employees.
The law allows spouses, parents, sons, or daughters to take the leave to care for a soldier who is injured. The time may also be taken if a family member goes on active duty, or will be deployed shortly. This measure includes the families of active duty soldiers, but is likely to be used mostly by spouses of members of the Reserve or National Guard.
There will be some circumstances in which “next of kin” (aunts, uncles, or cousins) will qualify for the extended leave, if a soldier is injured.
Employees could start taking leave under the new law beginning on January 28 of 2008.
The NDAA also expands somewhat the conditions under which time off can be taken. Under the traditional FMLA rules, a worker could take time off to care for a sick parent, child, or spouse. Caring for healthy children was confined strictly to newborns or to newly adopted children as well as newly added foster children. Now, relatives of soldiers on active duty may use the 26 weeks, or more than 6 months, to care for healthy children.
President Bush vetoed the original bill when it was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act in December of 2007. At the time, the President said he was not vetoing the bill because of objections to the expansion of FMLA, virtually insuring that the leave extension would be brought up and that passage was almost guaranteed. The legislation was approved in January of 2008.
In Pennsylvania as in all other states in the U.S., workers are protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993.
Under the FMLA, employees are guaranteed up to 12 weeks of job protected, unpaid leave annually.
Now, for the first time since the Act’s passage, a major expansion of the law has occurred. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2008 is so new that the U.S. Department of Labor is still developing regulations based on the legislation, so details are sketchy. It is not known yet whether all the FMLA rules will apply. The NDAA expands leave for relatives of injured soldiers and soldiers called to active duty.
The FMLA may be used if a worker is seriously ill. It may also be used to care for a member of the “immediate family” who is ill. “Immediate family” is defined as spouse, child, or parent. Some states such as Hawaii have expanded the definition to include grandparents and in-laws.
Employees may also use the 12 weeks of FMLA leave to bond with a newborn child, a newly placed foster child under 18 years old, or a newly adopted child. That makes the Family and Medical Leave Act one of the most common forms of maternity or paternity leave.
The FMLA requires that a worker be reinstated to his or her original job at the end of the leave. If the original job is not available, the employee must receive a job that is the same in pay, working conditions, benefits, and duties. In most cases, employees are reinstated to their original positions.
The Act applies only to firms with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. There are 11 states, however, which have expanded that to include smaller companies.
No state or federal law says workers must be paid during FMLA or NDAA leave. But employers may count paid leave time, such as sick time or PTO (Paid Time Off) against the 12 weeks. That can only be done if the company notifies the employee in writing before the leave begins.
According to a lawsuit filed by the EEOC, employees at AK Steel Corporation endured a widespread racist and threatening displays for years. These included racial slurs and epithets, open displays of Ku Klux Klan videos in the employee break area and the display of nooses and swastikas in work areas open to African-American employees. Employees also circulated literature of the Populist Party, headed by candidate David Duke, a KKK leader.
Some of the graffiti included threats, including a message to “kill” blacks and insulting threats. There was also Nazi graffiti, including statements such as “I love Adolf.”
The racially-charged climate was so pervasive that the EEOC said AK Steel managers had independent knowledge of the events, aside from any complaints.
AK Steel is a Fortune 500 company based in Middletown, Ohio that produces carbon steel and stainless steel products. The company had nearly $6 billion in sales last year and has major plants and offices in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
The $600,000 goes to 7 AK Steel employees, plus the estate of Gerald Patterson. Patterson originally filed the suit, but died before it was settled. In addition, all AK Steele employees will receive annual training to recognize and prevent discrimination based on race.
Gerald Patterson was hired by AK Steel in 1999, and filed the suit in 2003. Patterson was one of only about 20 black employees out of 1,950 at the Butler plant.
“The racial harassment alleged in this case, including the use of derogatory ethnic terms, nooses displayed in the work environment and disciplining those who complained of race discrimination, represents some of the most severe misconduct this office has seen,” said EEOC Attorney Jacqueline McNair. “Through the consent decree resolving this case, EEOC will monitor AK Steel’s treatment of employees to ensure a workplace environment free of harassment and race discrimination. Further, we believe the sizable monetary relief and the proposed training of employees on anti-discrimination policies may serve as a deterrent to future acts of blatant racism.”
The company denies any wrongdoing and says they are settling the case merely to avoid a protracted and expensive lawsuit against the federal government.
Shortly after Patterson filed the suit, AK Steel announced the departure of Richard Wardrop, Jr., the company’s former Chairman and CEO. Wardrop’s severance package was up to $51.7 million, according to an SEC filing. In addition, President John Hritz received a severance package of $ 11 million.
The company also reported that 475 workers had been laid off, including 200 in Butler.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal to deny any person employment due to race, color, sex, religion or national origin. That includes providing a work environment free from illegal harassment and different treatment based on race. In addition, Title VII recognizes that a company that creates an intolerable environment essentially forces the employee to resign. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against someone because he or she has made a complaint of illegal discrimination.
While the allegations of discrimination at AK Steel are unusually severe, they are not the only company recently accused of discrimination based on race.
In January, major retailer Target Corp. paid $775,000 for racial harassment to settle a suit. The suit alleged that Target Violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by creating a racially hostile work environment at the Springfield, Pennsylvania Target store.
Target operates more than 1,500 stores in 47 states. As part of the settlement, Target agreed to train employees at the Springfield store.
In the suit, the EEOC said that Michael Hill was an apprentice in training to become a store manager. He was subjected to racial harassment by a white store manager. When Hill complained, he was retaliated against, leaving him no choice but to resign.
“We are pleased that the parties could reach an amicable resolution of this matter,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Jacqueline McNair. “We expect the proposed training and emphasis on anti-discrimination policies to create a more employee-friendly work environment at Target’s facility.”
All of the companies mentioned in this article deny any wrongdoing.