Pundit James Carville once famously described the Keystone State of Pennsylvania as “two cities with Alabama in between.” The point Carville was trying to make was that Pennsylvania’s demographics, micro-economies, and cultural attitudes are widely diverse. The two main cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are cosmopolitan centers, home to a diversity of companies and industries. The rural regions between these two cities, on the other hand, are ethnically and economically far more homogeneous. Among Pennsylvania’s 12.5 million citizens, you can find Mennonites, Quakers, Amish, college students, mill and mine workers, steel magnates, bankers, and mushroom farmers.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) collects and investigates claims regarding various employment issues, such as:
- Employment discrimination. Federal law protects individuals from unfair treatment in the workplace; it prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, nationality, gender, disability, religion, and family status. When workers believe employers have used one or more of these categories in their hiring, management or firing decisions, they may contact the PHRC for assistance.
- Harassment. No one should experience a hostile work atmosphere because of his or her gender, nor should employees subject colleagues to lewd remarks or gestures. If a manager or coworker engages in continual unwanted sexual advances or refuses to stop making offensive comments, the employer needs to handle the situation and end the harassment or risk sanctions and other legal problems.
- Retaliation. Companies cannot penalize workers who report suspected violations of their rights under state or federal law. Such forbidden sanctions may include firing or demoting an employee after he or she has raised allegations of discrimination or cultivating a hostile attitude towards the complaining worker.
- Wage and hour violations. Pennsylvania workers are entitled to receive full payment for the work they perform, including overtime and tip wages. The law imposes penalties on employers who falsify time records, misclassify support employees, or engage in other fraudulent actions designed to withhold wages.
The Pennsylvania legislature established the PHRC in 1955.
Over the past half century, the Commission’s jurisdiction has expanded to enforce laws against discrimination based on blindness, national origin, disability, age, sex, ancestry, familial status, race, color, creed, and a variety of other factors. The Commission enforces both the Pennsylvania Fare Educational Opportunities Act and the Pennsylvanian Human Relations Act. Since the late 1950s and early 1960s, these acts have undergone numerous amendments, shifting the PHRC’s policy priorities. Eleven Commissioners -- appointed directly by the PA governor -- oversee the PHRC. These commissioners set regulations, hear cases and create policy.
PA’s complicated racial dynamics can present problems at workplaces. Consider the recent case of a Pennsylvania police officer who was suspended after she refused to take off her Muslim head scarf while on duty. Although the claimant lost her case, some anti-discrimination advocates applauded the ruling because it showed how much the state valued the principle of “religious neutrality” among the police force.
If you are in the midst of a complicated workplace harassment, discrimination, retaliation or wage and hour situation, a Pennsylvania employment lawyer can provide a consultation about your matter. Search for a local attorney now to begin asserting your rights.