5 Myths about Employment Law
Spend any time as an employee and it’s likely that you’ll hear coworkers claim that verbal termination or no rest breaks are illegal. In fact, employees believe a number of myths about their employment rights. That’s when we get phone calls from employees claiming that their employers violated their rights.
And usually, it turns out that the employee doesn’t understand his or her employee rights. It’s a frustrating call for all involved. Since this happens more than we’d care to share, we’ve assembled this list of 5 commonly-believed myths about employment law.
Myth: Termination for no reason is illegal.
What Employees Say: “I wasn’t given any warning before termination. No verbal, no written. They just fired me!”
Yes, it’s legal. And yes, it’s annoying that with little to no reason an employer can just fire you. But on the flip-side, this is due to Pennsylvania’s at-will employment, which allows employees to also quit at any time as well.
The only times that termination is illegal is if the employee was under contract or facing discrimination for status as a legally protected class. An employee who is fired while under an employment contract might have a case for wrongful termination unless dismissed for specific grounds outlined in the contract. For discrimination, federal law makes it illegal for employers to fire an employee due to gender, race, disability, national origin, genetic information, age, or religion. Laws also guard against termination for retaliation.
Myth: No rest breaks is illegal.
What Employees Say: “I sometimes work 12-hour shifts, and I’m not given any breaks or lunch.”
Legal. In Pennsylvania, the law does not obligate employers to offer adult workers any breaks even during a long shift. The only exception to this are seasonal farm workers. Pennsylvania law obligates employers of seasonal farm workers to provide 30-minute breaks after 5 hours of work. The time can be paid or unpaid as the employer sees fit.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not regulate how employers choose to manage the shifts and breaks of adult employees. If an employer does choose to allow breaks, FLSA requires that the employer not force the employee to clock out for breaks that are less than 20 minutes. For longer breaks, the employer may require employees to clock out.
Myth: My employer won’t pay out my sick or vacation time. That’s illegal.
What Employees Say: “I was fired/quit, and they won’t pay out my sick and vacation time that I have left.”
It’s legal. Pennsylvania law doesn’t outline any restrictions or protections for employees when it comes to paying out PTO, sick leave, or vacation days. However, if your employer has a policy to pay out vacation time to employees who are fired or quit, the law does require that your employer follows their own policy. The law obligates employers to be consistent in their treatment of employees when it comes to vacation time and sick leave.
Although this in and of itself is not illegal, it’s possible that your employer’s refusal to follow its policy could be illegal. If you have reason to believe that your legally protected status has influenced your employer’s decision to not pay out your vacation time when it’s been done for other employees, it’s possible that discrimination is in play. Consult with an employment attorney.
Myth: Getting fired for calling off because of doctor’s appointments is illegal.
What Employees Say: “I was fired because I called off too many times. I had a doctor’s note for 3 of those days.”
That’s legal. Employers aren’t required by law to offer sick days nor do they need to provide unpaid leave. Unless the employer has a policy about sick days or other benefits, an employer can fire employees for missing work, even with a doctor’s note. In fact, employers can create their own rules for the workplace and that could include write-ups for taking a sick day or calling off.
The federal or state government do not outline how employers should handle sick days for employees ill with a cold or flu. But, the government does have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that provides protections to eligible employees who have a serious illness. But, FMLA has certain requirements before an employee can claim that their employer violated FMLA.
Myth: It’s illegal to fire someone without a termination letter.
What Employees Say: “They fired me over the phone/by text instead of a letter.”
This is legal, too. Once again, since Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state, employers and employees can disband the employment relationship at any time for any reason. Although being fired over the phone or text is inappropriate, there’s nothing illegal about it.
However, in some cases, illegal employment actions might be in play, such as discrimination or retaliation. In those situations, you may have a case for wrongful termination or discrimination. Consult a lawyer if you think that your employer potentially violated the laws that guide employee treatment for wages, health and safety, or whistleblowing.
If you’ve been fired due to discrimination or retaliation, contact an employment lawyer who will know how to navigate your case and your rights under the law.