New Ordinance Targets “Wage Theft” By Philadelphia Employers

 

Philadelphia recently enacted a local ordinance which will make it easier for employees to collect small sums owed to them by employers. Employees owed from $100 to $10,000 can submit a claim to the new “Wage Theft Coordinator” in the city government. The Wage Theft Coordinator will have the power to review claims, make determinations, and impose substantial penalties including fines and revocation of city licenses or permits held by the employer.

In addition to ordering payment of the back wages, the Wage Theft Coordinator may impose a fine of up to $2,300 per violation. Each week that wages go unpaid is considered a separate violation. Like the Pennsylvania Wage Payment & Collection Law, the city ordinance provides for individual liability against company owners and persons in charge of the purse strings even in a corporation. Failure to pay the wages and fines after a violation is found may lead to even more severe penalties including publication in a list of non-paying employers, possible imprisonment of company officials, and revocation or suspension of city licenses or permits for up to one year.

The claim must be for work performed in Philadelphia or where the employment contract was created in Philadelphia. For companies with offices in Philadelphia, that may expand potential liability under the new ordinance to workers anywhere. Philadelphia employers are also required to post new notices in the workplace informing employees of their rights under the new ordinance.

If you are an employee who is owed back wages from your employer, or an employer wanting to stay compliant with wage laws, call Scott Fegley at the Fegley Law Firm in Yardley, PA for assistance. (215) 493-8287 or scott@fegleylaw.com.  We give you peace of mind.

Medical Marijuana: A Joint Impact On Employers And Employees

On May 17, 2016, Pennsylvania became the twenty-third state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize the use of marijuana for treatment of persons with serious illnesses. The full implementation of the Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) will not occur for some time. The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) has been charged with the task of developing regulations for facilities to legally dispense medical marijuana. It may be several months before the regulations are in place, dispensaries are licensed, and the first medical marijuana patients are certified to purchase the drug.

Despite the time lag until full implementation, there are several aspects of the MMA’s impact on the workplace that employees and employers should take note of now. First, the MMA does not legalize smoking pot. Medical marijuana will be available only in the form of pills, creams, oils and vapors. It will also be available only to those individuals whose physicians have certified them to be suffering from specific serious illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDs, and multiple sclerosis.

Second, the MMA does not permit even approved users of medical marijuana to use it at work or to be under the influence of medical marijuana at work. The MMA specifically states:

Nothing in the act shall require an employer to make any accommodation of the use of medical marijuana on the premises of any place of employment.

                                                            and

This act shall in no way limit an employer’s ability to discipline an employee for being under the influence of medical marijuana in the workplace or for working while under the influence of medical marijuana when the employee’s conduct falls below the standard of care normally accepted for that position.

So if employers do not have to permit possession or use of medical marijuana at work and may discipline an employee for being under the influence of medical marijuana, what real change does the law have on the workplace?

For starters, employers should anticipate some creative plaintiffs’ lawyers will argue that the above language does not permit discipline in circumstances where the employee, though perhaps “under the influence,” remains able to effectively perform his job. Only time and litigation will tell. The more difficult aspect of implementation may occur with an employer’s random drug testing program. A positive test for cannabis may not necessarily, in and of itself, be a basis for discipline or discharge of an employee as it was prior to the law’s enactment. However, persons approved for medical marijuana use will receive a state issued ID card. If an employee cannot produce a state ID card to verify approval for medicinal use, the employer should be able to discipline the employee the same as any other employee under a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy.

The MMA also prohibits employers from discriminating against employees solely on the basis of the employee’s status as a certified user of medical marijuana. Yet, employees who are certified to use medical marijuana are, by definition, already afflicted with illnesses which themselves will likely justify the exercise of rights and protections available under the Americans With Disabilities Act and/or the Family & Medical Leave Act. Once an employee identifies himself or herself as certified to use medical marijuana, employers should exercise particular diligence to assure accommodations are made, short of possession or use of medical marijuana on the premises, to enable the employee to perform his or her job. However, it bears repeating that even certification for use of medical marijuana will not excuse an employee’s subpar performance or coming to work impaired.

If you have questions about employment law and how it may apply to you or your business call our Yardley, PA office to schedule a consultation.  Contact us at (215) 493-8287 or email Scott Fegley at scott@fegleylaw.com.

Read Before You Sign! (And Consult An Attorney)

The recent case of Wakeley v. M.J. Brunner, Inc., PA Superior Court, No. 392 (April 19, 2016) is another harsh example of what can happen to people who sign legal documents without understanding what they mean.

The plaintiff, Ms. Wakeley, was happily employed at her job in Dallas, TX when a corporate recruiter contacted her regarding a position with the defendant, M.J. Brunner, in Pittsburgh, PA.  After a series of interviews, M.J. Brunner offered Ms. Wakeley the position, but then revoked the offer before Ms. Wakeley accepted citing a change in plans.   This should have been a red flag for Ms. Wakeley.  However, a short while later, the Brunner company called again and told Ms. Wakeley they had an executive taking a maternity leave.  They offered her the temporary position with slightly more attractive compensation than the original offer and the promise that there would be another similar permanent position for her when the executive returned from maternity leave.  Ms. Wakeley accepted the offer, moved her family from Dallas to the Pittsburgh area, and began working for M.J. Brunner.  When she started her new job, she signed a contract which included a standard “at-will employment’ clause.  For anyone not familiar with “at-will employment,” it means either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship “at will” at any time for any reason or even no reason at all.

Ms. Wakeley’s tenure at M.J. Brunner, Inc. was short-lived.  Her superiors criticized her work performance and fired her four days before the incumbent executive returned from maternity leave to resume her position.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Wakeley brought a lawsuit against M.J. Brunner.  She argued she should not be considered an “at-will” employee because she suffered the additional hardship of relocating across the country.  She also claimed M.J. Brunner never intended to offer her a permanent position and fraudulently lured her to leave her job in Dallas just to cover the executive’s maternity leave.  However, the court held that the language in Ms. Wakeley’s contract was “clear and dispositive.”  She could not claim to be anything other than an “at will” employee when she signed a contract including the “at will” language and clearly identifying the employer’s  right to end her employment at any time for any reason.  The contract also stated that no M.J. Brunner employee had the authority to make any oral statement to the contrary.  The court held the contract language controlled despite what M.J. Brunner representatives may have said orally to her prior to signing the contract.  The court presumed Ms. Wakeley had read the contract and understood its terms.

Whether you are presented with a contract upon starting your employment or a severance agreement when you leave, if you sign the agreement without seeking legal counsel, you do so at your own peril.  Frankly, this advice is good advice for anyone given a legal document to sign.  Severance agreements may contain non-competition clauses that can prevent an employee from accepting a job offer from a new employer.  Business contracts may include many burdensome clauses that limit your legal rights and may even compel you to bring your lawsuit in another state.  In short, if you sign a legal contract without seeking legal advice, you may find yourself in Pittsburgh without a paddle.

 

Bucks County Jury Awards $362,015 To Gunshot Victim

On February 18, 2016, a Bucks County jury awarded Steven Vickers of Morrisville $362,015 due to injuries suffered after he was accidentally shot by his friend, Charles Byle, III, of Levittown. The verdict followed a three day trial in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas in Doylestown. Yardley attorney Scott Fegley represented the plaintiff Vickers.

“The verdict was fair,” Fegley said. “The jury acknowledged the severity of the injury even though Mr. Vickers made a remarkable recovery in a relatively short period of time and is not restricted by his injuries today.”

Vickers, 26, was at Byle’s home on November 8, 2013, to help him clean out his garage. At the end of the day, Vickers walked into Byle’s bedroom to tell him he was leaving. Byle, holding a .357 Magnum revolver, pointed it at Vickers and pulled the trigger believing the gun was unloaded, but the gun discharged. The bullet passed through Vickers’ right bicep and into his chest cavity where it lodged in the 5th thoracic vertebrae of his spine.

Byle applied a tourniquet to Vickers’ arm and drove him to Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol. Vickers was stabilized and airlifted to Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia where he underwent several surgeries to stop the bleeding and re-inflate his right lung. The bullet fractured a rib and punctured Vickers’ right lung, ending up near the descending thoracic aorta. It was too close to this major artery to be safely removed.

After being hospitalized at Temple for seven days, Vickers was discharged but was admitted to St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, PA a few days later because fluid filled his chest cavity. Vickers remained in the hospital another nine days.

Vickers sued Byle in 2013 on claims of assault and battery, recklessness and negligence. Byle agreed he was liable for the injuries and the parties also agreed Byle would pay not less than $81,000 to no more than $420,000 regardless of the jury’s verdict. The jury decided the issues of causation and damages.

The jury awarded Vickers damages of $67,015 for past medical expenses; $200,000 for pain and suffering; $50,000 for loss of life’s pleasures, $5,000 for disfigurement, and $45,000 for future medical expenses resulting in the $362,015 verdict. Vickers’ estimates of his future medical expenses were hotly contested during the trial by the defense attorney, R. Anthony Michetti, of Doylestown.

Although Vickers has continuing pain in his right arm and back, he is not restricted in his activities and has been reluctant to seek further medical attention. “I think the jury recognized he should have some follow-up evaluation over the course of his life for his injuries,” Fegley said, “although the possibility of Steve developing more severe conditions later in life will always be there.”

“As a gun owner myself, I know how important it is to handle firearms safely. They are not toys and are never to be pointed at anyone except in the extreme situation of self-defense. But Steve was Byle’s friend, not an intruder. This was a near tragedy that could easily have been avoided.”

Scott Fegley is an attorney based in Yardley, Pennsylvania, who helps clients in personal injury, employment and business law matters. He’s licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. His website is www.fegleylaw.com.

Why the Only Thing You Should Worry About After an Automobile Accident is Your Health.

Serious motor vehicle accidents occur on a daily basis across the United States. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nationwide in 2012:

  • More than 2.5 million Americans sought treatment in hospital emergency rooms due to injuries caused in motor vehicle accidents, and
  • Nearly 200,000 of them were hospitalized.

The CDC estimates that vehicle accidents result in:

  • Americans spending over a million days in the hospital each year,
  • At a cost of $18 billion dollars (in 2012),
  • With a lifetime economic cost to crash victims of $33 billion.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that in 2013 nationwide 32,719 people died in vehicle accidents while:

Negligent operation is the single biggest factor leading to motor vehicle accidents. Today, with smart phones, texting, even onboard computer displays for everything from phone calls to music selection, there are more causes for distraction and driver inattentiveness than ever.  The economic costs to an injured person and his or her family can be staggering when job loss and loss of future earning capacity are compounded with medical expenses.  Then there is always the difficult-to-quantify component of pain and suffering.

Prompt legal representation is essential after an accident occurs for several reasons.  First and foremost, it is crucial to collect and preserve evidence to demonstrate the cause of the accident.  Accident scenes can change within hours due to weather conditions or other vehicular traffic.  While you or your family member may be hospitalized and healing, critical physical evidence may be lost.  An attorney can accomplish the following:

  • Photograph the accident scene and involved vehicles
  • Collect and preserve physical evidence
  • Obtain police investigation reports
  • Obtain witness statements
  • Contact insurance companies and deal with them for you

Even if the other driver’s liability is clear, only a qualified personal injury attorney will be able to sort through the complicated insurance coverage issues including possible Medicare or Workers Compensation liens, tort threshold selection, and the steps to take if the driver responsible for causing the accident does not have enough insurance, or has none at all.

While most states afford injured persons two years from the date of the accident in which to file a lawsuit, your attorney should be working from the outset to gather records and build your case for compensation.  This may include hiring experts to analyze the cause of the accident and quantify economic losses, contacting physicians and other healthcare providers to establish the severity of your injuries, and communicating with your employer to obtain wage loss data.  In short, there is much work for the attorney to accomplish before a lawsuit is filed.   If the other party’s responsibility for the accident is clear, it may be possible to settle the case without having to file a lawsuit.  However, each case is different and an attorney’s legal expertise is necessary to make the decisions to protect your rights and prepare your case to receive the greatest possible compensation.

Protect your rights by calling our office so we can help you now.  Contact us at (215) 493-8287 or by emailing Scott Fegley at scott@fegleylaw.com.