Once again, our fearless leaders have warned us that they may fail to pass a budget this year. What’s different this time around is that instead of furloughing non-critical state employees, Governor Ed Rendell has assured all of us that we will continue to report to work no matter what happens. Only, we won’t get paid after June 30th.
There’s an interesting law on the books — one that I’m very familiar with, having used it against a former employer — called the Pennsylvania Wage Payment And Collection Act of 1961. It’s a very simple law to read, and I suggest everyone (state employee or not) take a look at it. In short, it states that your employer must pay you on your regular payday, that your employer can not delay payment under any circumstances, and that your employer can not waive your rights by making you sign an agreement. In other words, if you work, you must get paid. Period. The act even goes on to clarify that this explicitly applies to salary, hourly rate, commission, and so on. It’s a pretty open-and-shut law: If you work, you must get paid on time.
Read on for some highlights, but my question is this:
Us commonwealth employees are technically employed through the State Civil Service Commission. Your agency is only a designation; you are technically employed by Pennsylvania. If the SCSC fails to pay our wages on time, are they on the hook for the criminal and civil penalties prescribed under the Act?
Some excerpts from the law (highlighting is mine):
Every employer shall pay all wages, other than fringe benefits and wage supplements, due to his employes on regular paydays designated in advance by the employer.
No provision of this act shall in any way be contravened or set aside by a private agreement.
Every employer shall keep open to inspection by the secretary or his authorized representative, all payroll records or other records or documents relative to the enforcement of this act. Such inspection may be made by the secretary or his authorized representative at any reasonable time.
Where wages remain unpaid for thirty days beyond the regularly scheduled payday … and no good faith contest or dispute of any wage claim including the good faith assertion of a right of set-off or counter-claim exists accounting for such non-payment, the employe shall be entitled to claim, in addition, as liquidated damages an amount equal to twenty-five percent (25%) of the total amount of wages due, or five hundred dollars ($500), whichever is greater.
In addition to any other penalty or punishment otherwise prescribed by law, any employer who violates any provisions of this act shall be guilty of a summary offense and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars ($300), or by imprisonment up to 90 days, or by both, for each offense. The good faith contest or dispute by any employer of any wage claim or the good faith assertion of a right of set-off or counter-claim shall not be considered a violation of this act: Provided, That the employer has paid all wages due in excess of the amount in dispute or asserted to be subject to a
right of set-off or counter-claim. Nonpayment of wages to, on account of, or for the benefit of each individual employe shall constitute a separate offense.
I am not a lawyer, but I was able to bring a successful claim against a former employer over a $160 underpayment (which, in turn, wound up costing that employer somewhere in the neighborhood of $800, plus a trip from Philadelphia to Harrisburg) under this act. There is a definite possibility that legislation will be (or has been) passed exempting the SCSC from this Act, or providing a special exclusion for budget failures.
Because, as we all know, passing the budget on time is simply not an option.