Samuel J. Cordes & Associates
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Understanding workplace policies before you violate them

Pennsylvania, like almost every other state in the country, is an at-will employment state. This means that contrary to popular belief, employers do not need to provide any reason to fire someone and can easily fire an employee without explanation. Wrongful termination cases arise only when an employee is fired for an illegal reason, such as in retaliation for reporting misconduct, or because of their race.

Most firings occur for reasons other than those protected by law, and employees are often shocked to find that they have no legal recourse in situations where they thought they were protected.

For example, any people think that if their boss is rude or bullying them, that they have the freedom to speak out against that conduct and that they will not get fired. However, workplace harassment is illegal when it is specifically directed at someone because of their race, gender, ethnicity, age, national origin, disability, or religion. Regular old bullying is not illegal and there are no laws on the books in Pennsylvania or elsewhere protecting employees who speak out against bullying.

Another common misconception is that any questions that an employer asks during the hiring process are legal. Employers are prohibited from asking questions about race or age or whether a prospective employee is a member of another protected class, but many will ask anyways. Some employers include race as a category on an application form, and others will inquire about an applicant's national origins during the interview process, but Pennsylvania workers should know that this information cannot be taken into account in choosing a candidate. This situation could give way to a potential conflict, though, if an applicant refuses to answer. In that sense, it is helpful to tread lightly around these issues and inquire politely about questions during the application process that seem odd or overly personal.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Balancing Act: Misunderstanding workplace rules could cost your job," Cindy Krischer Goodman, Jan. 20, 2013.

More information about employee rights is available on our wrongful termination page.

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