Labor & Employment FAQ for Employees
Frequently Asked Questions regarding harassment, discrimination, and workers' rights under federal acts such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), as well as the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) and the Pittsburgh City Code.
- What is Employment At-Will?
- So when is it illegal for my employer to fire or otherwise treat me adversely?
- How can I prove that I'm being discriminated against?
- How do I know if I have the elements of a claim?
- What should I do if I believe I have been discriminated against?
- Is there a time limit for filing a claim with the EEOC?
- How does quitting my job affect my case?
- How much will it cost me to pursue a claim?
- What can I recover if I pursue a claim?
What is Employment At-Will?
Pennsylvania is an employment at-will state, which means that either party (the employer or the employee) can end the employment relationship at any time for any reason. Just as you are free to quit your job, the employer is free to fire you as long as it is not for an illegal reason. One exception to this rule is if you have a contract of employment that changes at-will status.
So when is it illegal for my employer to fire or otherwise treat me adversely?
There are federal and state statutes as well as local ordinances and executive orders which provide some of the exceptions to the at-will presumption by placing limitations on when employees can be terminated or otherwise adversely treated. These include but are not limited to:
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) — applies to employers with 50 or more employees
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — applies to employers with 15 or more employees
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) - applies to employers with 15 or more employees
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) - applies to employers with 20 or more employees
- The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHEA) — applies to employers with 4 or more employees
- The Pittsburgh City Code — applies to all employers with 5 or more employees within the City of Pittsburgh
The statutes which target employee discrimination protect you from being harassed or fired based on protected categories. Protected categories include:
- Gender (includes sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and may include family responsibilities discrimination)
- Age (40 years of age or older)
- National origin
- Sexual orientation (City of Pittsburgh ordinance)
- Familial status (City of Pittsburgh ordinance)
- Retaliation based on participation or opposition to unlawful employment practices
In order for you to have a claim under the statutes which target employment discrimination, your employer must be treating you adversely based on your membership in one of these protected categories. If you are singled out because of your race/age/disability/etc., you might (or might not) have a case. If your supervisors are equally nasty to everyone, or mistreat you for some reason that is not illegal, then you're just at a bad place to work!
How can I prove that I'm being discriminated against?
There are generally two models to prove discrimination: disparate treatment and disparate impact. With disparate treatment, you will need to prove that you were intentionally discriminated against either through direct evidence or circumstantial evidence. Disparate impact occurs when a neutral policy or decision adversely affects a protected class. If you can prove either disparate treatment or disparate impact, you may be able to bring a discrimination claim.
How do I know if I have the elements of a claim?
In general, the elements of a discrimination claim should include:
- That the employee suffered intentional discrimination because of a protected characteristic (such as race, disability, etc.); and
- That the discrimination detrimentally affected the employee.
What should I do if I believe I have been discriminated against?
You may want to contact legal counsel or one of the government agencies which enforce the non-discrimination statutes (the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the PHRC (Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission) or the City of Pittsburgh Commission). Depending on your circumstances, you may be directed to follow the complaint mechanism of your employer. Make sure you follow all employee rules and procedures. Be aware of any retaliatory treatment — are things made worse because you spoke up?
Is there a time limit for filing a claim with the EEOC?
Be aware, there are time limits to file a charge with the EEOC. Visit http://www.eeoc.gov/charge/overview_charge_filing.html for more information on the EEOC.
How does quitting my job affect my case?
Quitting your job can have complex ramifications that can change your legal position. Depending on the circumstances, quitting your job could be looked at as a firing (constructive discharge) or might have the opposite effect and waive many legal claims. You may need to consult with an attorney to determine the prudent course of action.
How much will it cost me to pursue a claim?
Rothman Gordon generally handles cases two ways: one is on an hourly basis where the attorney charges for time spent on your case. The second is on a contingent basis where the attorney is paid a portion of any amount recovered.
What can I recover if I pursue a claim?
If you are successful, depending on the kind of claim, you may be able to recover: back pay, front pay or reinstatement, compensatory damages (including compensation for pain and suffering), punitive damages, declaratory relief and/or attorney's fees.