Pittsburgh Employment Law Blog

6 things to put in an employment contract

If you decide to use employment contracts for your employees, they can actually help protect your business in some cases by defining that relationship. For instance, the contract can lay out exactly how many vacation days the employee gets and what the ramifications are for taking too many days. If you then take action based on those stipulations, there is no room for the employee to argue that it was unfair or discriminatory. Those are the terms that they agreed to up front.

So, what should you think about putting in that employment contract? Here are six key points you may want to address:

  1. How long the business relationship is going to last, if it is not indefinite. For instance, they may only be employed until a project is completed.
  2. What responsibilities the employee has and what they are expected to do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
  3. What time off they get, such as sick days and vacation days, and how those can be used.
  4. Why the employee can be fired.
  5. If the employee has to agree to keep any trade secrets and what can happen if the employee breaks that agreement.
  6. If the employee is allowed to work for a similar company after they decide to quit or if they get fired. If they can work elsewhere, the contract may limit what information they can take with them.

Address Fair Labor Standards Act complaints immediately

The Fair Labor Standards Act is important for employers and employees alike. The standards that they set protect everyone who is involved, so it is imperative that these laws are complied with. It is possible for employees to file a complaint against the employer, which can open the employer up for legal action against it.

We know that these matters might be fully fabricated by employees who are unhappy with their job. This is a tough spot to be in, but you have to do your best to address the issue in a lawful manner so that there won't be any further legal issues with the person. There might be an investigation into the matter by the appropriate authorities, so you should try to be prepared to handle this.

Employers must comply with federal and state overtime laws

Employees in Pennsylvania have the protections of federal and state laws when it comes to their overtime pay. It is imperative that employers understand the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act so they can ensure they are paying workers appropriately. This decreases the chance that they will face legal issues from employees who claim they weren't paid appropriate overtime wages.

Overtime pay must be paid if a worker puts in more than 40 hours per week for hourly workers. The pay for this is a minimum of 1.5 times the standard pay for that employee. While federal law puts a cap on overtime for workers who make more than $100,000, state law doesn't have a cap. This means that workers in Pennsylvania are entitled to overtime payments regardless of how much they earn per year.

Your company needs suitable termination policies

Pennsylvania is an at will employment state, which means that either the employer or employee can end the working relationship at any point without a reason. Even though this sounds like employers can terminate employees for any reason, they actually can't. It is possible for an employee to sue an employer for wrongful termination if the reason is illegal.

There are a few reasons why you shouldn't terminate an employee. These include retaliation for something like making a complaint about illegal activities at the business, and discrimination or harassment based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation or any other protected status. If you let an employee go because of one of those reasons, you open your company up to legal action that can be both time-consuming and costly.

Employee pay must be in line with legal requirements

Your employees count on receiving the correct wages so that they can pay their bills and meet their needs. One of the fastest ways that you can end up with negative publicity from those employees is to pay them incorrectly. As an employer, it's far better to make sure that you avoid that bad publicity -- and the litigation that can go with it -- by strictly adhering to wage and hour laws, including those set by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Unfortunately, that's often easier said than done. Employers and employees often disagree over things like whether or not an employee is actually an independent contractor and when an employee is due overtime. In addition, even tiny payroll errors can sometimes lead to big mistakes -- and those can lead to costly confrontations. You can end up owing money to your employees for back pay -- and money to the government in penalties and fines.

The #MeToo movement has caused a flurry of policy changes

In the past year, the Harvey Weinstein misconduct allegations that set up the #MeToo movement caused companies everywhere to make changes to their policies and agreements.

Faced with new liability concerns, employers also set about crafting the proper wording in both employment and severance agreements.

Policies regarding pregnancy must comply with specific laws

Women who are pregnant will sometimes worry about having to tell their employer that they are pregnant because they might think that the announcement will result in negative employment actions. You must make it clear in your company that it is illegal for anyone to take that type of action because of a pregnancy.

There are specific laws on both the federal and the state level that prohibit employers from discriminating against pregnant women. Pennsylvania recognizes that all pregnant women have a certain level of disability and that they are likely going to be unable to do their job duties in the same manner as they did before they became pregnant. Employers must make reasonable accommodations for these cases.

Clear employment policies can prevent many potential issues

A company's most valuable asset is the employees who work for it. That is until an employee decides that they are upset with the business and starts to cause legal troubles. When you are in charge of running a company that employs people, you have to ensure that the people who work for you are being treated in a manner that is compliant with applicable laws.

Labor laws in this country are complex, but we are here to help you determine what your company needs to do to remain compliant. It is imperative that you have a plan for various issues that might arise. For example, having a clear employee leave policy can ensure that everyone gets the same benefits. Setting a concise pay policy and one for how harassment and discrimination complaints are made can also help.

Claims of retaliation can damage a business

One of the most troubling accusations that your company might face at some point is that you retaliated against an employee. Claims of retaliation are taken very seriously and must be given the attention they deserve. Because of the chance of a current or former employee making this claim, you should ensure that you are keeping accurate and comprehensive records for everyone who works for you.

Having a record of negative employment behavior by an employee can go a long way in showing that there wasn't any retaliation in the matter. Employees might claim that they were doing their best job before you terminated them or cut their pay. If the records show otherwise, there is a good chance that they won't be able to prove that retaliation occurred.

Handle employment complaints very carefully

Every business has laws that they must follow. If your company has employees, you need to think carefully about what you are doing. You must comply with applicable laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This covers several protections for employees. If you are found in violation, you might face legal action. We are here to help you minimize the chance of that happening and address them if you do end up facing a complaint regarding this.

You have to do what you need to do to protect your company, so we can review the options that you have with you so that you can choose the path that you feel is the best one. We want to see your company grow to its biggest potential. This can take some work when you have employees who are accusing you of not complying with applicable laws.