A school can be the anchor of a rural community. As such, some rural locations faced with dwindling populations and the possibility of losing their public schools to consolidations and closures are turning to charter schools as an option.
Starting a charter school can be a divisive issue in urban areas with failing public schools. However, in a rural area trying to keep its school alive, the chartering option can serve as a resource instead of a threat. Education experts say that to lose a school can be devastating for a rural area and that schools give such places their identity.
Schools and Rural Sustainability
Rural America has changed dramatically. It has higher unemployment than urban centers, its young people have moved out leaving a largely elderly population, and schools have had a hard time keeping up.
In a rural community, the school serves as a social hub, a binding agent for the residents, and can provide economic and political benefits as well. The 16 percent of charter schools that are operating in rural areas strive to be a connection between the students and their hometowns by nurturing a sense of place and community. Charter schools want to offer place-based education as an answer to the issue of rural sustainability.
In Logantown, Pennsylvania for example, the Sugar Valley Rural Charter School is teaching the region’s agricultural history to its student body. The school’s chief executive officer says that it is important for the students to have an appreciation of the local farming culture and how hard the people of Sugar Valley worked to create the local economy.
The lead teacher at Merrimac Community Charter School in Merrimac, Wisconsin, has neighbors volunteer to teach art, baking, and gardening lessons as part of the school’s place-based curriculum. The idea is that if children learn about the environment in which they live, they will develop a sense of caring for the community that will continue into adulthood.
Charter Schools and Controversy
Rural charter schools face the same issues that urban charters do – the charter application process requires knowledge of the complicated bureaucracy involved with starting a school from scratch, as well as time and money. Rural communities may be lacking in some or all of these areas. Critics say charters draw funding and students away from public schools already struggling for survival. Money is generally stretched tightly in a rural area so it is easy to see what is draining the supply if a charter opens for business.
Often charter schools are professionally managed by a for-profit Educational Management Organization (EMO) or a non-profit Charter Management Organization (CMO). According to 2014-15 statistics, approximately 44 percent of U.S. charter schools are run by EMOs or CMOs, but among rural charters, only 19 percent use professional management. Most often they are run independently by local community groups who have less interest in profit margins and more interest in the school’s success and that of the students – especially if the option is no school at all.
Form I-9 Immigration Audits and Investigations
Form I-9 must be completed for every individual that an employer hires regardless of the employee’s citizenship status. The form verifies the employee’s identity and employment authorization. Supporting documents must be presented by the employee and examined by the employer and the I-9 must be kept on record for a designated period. If at any time Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants to inspect an employer’s I-9 forms, they must be made available to authorized agents. Inspection may be carried out after a complaint or on the agency’s own initiative.
When an employer receives a Notice of Inspection (NOI) they are allowed three business days under the law to produce all the requested documents. Any employer who receives an NOI should immediately inform their legal counsel and all subsequent communications should be made through counsel. An NOI is a serious matter that could lead to significant penalties, both civil and criminal, should the employer be found to be non-compliant. Good legal counsel can help minimize the potential liability of an ICE inspection.
A qualified attorney should review all I-9 forms and other requested documents and use the three days granted under the law to make any allowable corrections. For any employee identified in the documents requested by ICE, there must be a corresponding I-9 form. Any employee listed on payroll and quarterly wage reports, or who was hired after November 6, 1986 must have an I-9 form.
Other documents ICE may request include:
- Quarterly payroll records
- Employee identification documents
- List of employees and independent contractors along with their personal information – full name, date of birth, Social Security number, and dates worked
- Corporate documents including quarterly tax documents
- Copies of E-Verify inquiry results
Before providing any documents, it must be verified that the employer has properly completed I-9 forms for all current and terminated employees. Always request a receipt for any records turned over to ICE.
Additionally, the job of legal counsel is to clarify with ICE any ambiguities in the NOI, and to get an idea of how long ICE expects the audit to last and what their expectations are for the investigation. After reviewing the provided documents, ICE may respond with any of the following notices:
- Notice of Discrepancies
- Warning Notice
- Notice of Inspection Results
- Notice of Suspect Documents
- Notice of Intent to Fine
If the employer receives a Notice of Intent to Fine, then it is important to prepare an appeal by requesting a hearing for a Notice of Intent to Fine.
Experienced legal counsel is important in helping a business be proactive about its I-9 documentation and remaining in compliance. For assistance with your business law issue, call MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106 or submit an online contact form.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
With all the recent allegations of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, employers should be prepared for an increase in lawsuits across other industries as well. Now is a good time to review company policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment in the workplace to ensure that employees are protected and have safe avenues to report any incidents that may arise.
Anti-harassment policies can protect both employees and employers by proactively establishing a zero-tolerance policy. Ideally, the policy should be crafted with the input of experienced legal counsel. Such policies should be clearly defined and easily accessible to all employees. It is important to be able to demonstrate that workers have been informed about the company’s policies.
An effective policy against sexual harassment will clearly state the zero-tolerance rule and define what qualifies as harassment, including examples of what is prohibited. Employees should be provided with several options to report sexual harassment that they have experienced or witnessed, and they should be encouraged to report incidents immediately. All reports should remain confidential and there should be an avenue available to report incidents that does not involve a direct supervisor, should that person be the subject of a complaint. The policy should include a promise that there will be no retaliation for reporting workplace harassment.
Employers should provide anti-harassment training for all employees during orientation. In many states this is required by law. The training should cover the company policy on sexual harassment as well as how to prevent it. Managers should be thoroughly familiar with what procedures to take when a complaint is brought.
Respond to Complaints Swiftly
Typically, human resources should get involved immediately when a complaint is received, and the incident should be investigated without delay. The investigation should be led by trained human resources professionals or managers, and legal counsel should be informed of any matters under internal investigation. It is important to have the employee give a full written account with as much detail as possible in order to be able to follow up on every allegation. The investigation should include all pertinent communications including text messages and emails. During this period, the employee should be removed from any scenarios that involve working together with the alleged offender. Every effort should be made to keep the matter as confidential as possible while still fully investigating the complaint.
A key component of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is demonstrating that it will not be tolerated with consequences for those who violate the company’s policy. The appropriate action should be taken immediately. This can range from written warnings to suspension, ordering mandatory training, demoting, or terminating the offender. After documenting the steps taken, follow up with the employee to let them know what is being done to prevent future incidents of harassment.
For assistance with any employment related matter, call MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106 or submit an online contact form.
Benefit Corporation Basics
Corporate Social Responsibility has been taken a step further by the advent of Benefit Corporations. Maryland was the first state in the U.S. to pass benefit corporation legislation and now 33 states plus the District of Columbia allow for companies to be registered as benefit corporations.
A benefit corporation is a for-profit organization that is legally required to create a positive impact upon society, its workers, and the environment. The mission of the corporation and its specific public benefit purposes are decided together by the directors and shareholders. This social and environmental mission is then a core business objective in addition to the goal of making a profit.
There are currently around 1,800 registered benefit corporations in 50 countries. Among them are well-known ventures like Patagonia, Klean Kanteen, and Etsy. Etsy is a benefit corporation that ultimately became a publicly traded company. Their 2016 second quarter earnings report showed revenue of $85.3 billion, and is a premier example of how a socially responsible company can also be profitable.
Advantages of Benefit Corporations
Choosing to be a benefit corporation is purely voluntary. By declaring a mission that will benefit the public good, benefit corporations provide an opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs to invest and help build businesses that have profit as a goal while remaining socially and environmentally responsible.
The United States Forum for Responsible Investment (USSIF) reports that their members represent more than $3 trillion in assets being invested in socially responsible companies. Benefit corporations are attractive to investors and employees alike. Surveys by the Nielsen company indicate that 56 percent of North Americans would rather work for a company that gives back to the community. The same survey found that 64 percent of North Americans would prefer to buy from companies that give back to the community, demonstrating that consumers are also drawn to benefit corporations.
Becoming a Benefit Corporation in Pennsylvania
An established business entity that wishes to become a benefit corporation may do so by a two-thirds vote of the shareholders. Those wishing to form a benefit corporation must file an application with the Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations. The application must include the Articles of Incorporation, a docketing statement, as well as the following information:
- Signatures of all incorporators and their names and addresses
- The corporate name, which must be available for use
- The corporate address, which may not be a P.O. box, however, a Commercial Registered Office Provider’s address is acceptable
- The purpose of the corporation
- The stock share status
- A statement declaring benefit corporation status
The intent to file must be published in two newspapers of general circulation – one of which should preferably be a legal journal.
Every benefit corporation must also file an annual report with the state that assesses their operations by a third-party standard. This report describes their efforts to create public benefit during the preceding year and must be distributed to all shareholders.
Certified B Corporations
A Certified B Corporation is a benefit corporation that meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency, as set forth by B Labs. There is no requirement for benefit corporations to be certified, but certification adds to a company’s credibility and is considered a best practice. Well known Certified B corporations include Eileen Fisher, Fetzer Vineyards, and Badger Bodycare.
MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser is well versed in the complexities of benefit corporations and can provide you with highly skilled representation. Contact us online or call 484-318-7106 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.
Avoid Costly Employee Lawsuits
When first launching a fledgling business, no entrepreneur ever plans on being sued, especially by an employee. As such, they often do not take the preventive measures to avoid the organizational and financial consequences that often come with such a lawsuit.
Fortunately, many such lawsuits rarely occur without warning. Rather, they are more likely the final link in a long chain of poor management-employee relations. These practical tips can help your business improve the quality of inter-office relationships and avoid costly litigation.
This is a fundamental tactic but very helpful. Training your managers properly can prepare them to effectively deal with delicate issues, such as discrimination and wrongful termination, which are serious matters that commonly lead to litigation.
Training helps managers spot potential issues, so they can be defused quickly and effectively. Business owners and managers should be aware of potential employment-related red flags, including repeated serious run-ins with argumentative workers.
When incidents do occur, it is wise for managers to document them thoroughly. Having a robust and accurate record of an employee’s work history and their issues can prove an invaluable tool to the company should allegations of managerial misconduct later arise.
Consult an Attorney for Human Resources Counseling
An experienced employment litigation defense lawyer can help business owners and managers develop proper safeguards to avoid potential disputes. When problems do arise, a labor lawyer will work diligently to resolve issues promptly and efficiently. This is critical for preserving not only a company’s financial assets, but its reputation as well.
If you need an experienced and knowledgeable attorney for employee-related matters, contact MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser by submitting an online inquiry, or calling 484-318-7106. Our office is conveniently located in Malvern, Pennsylvania and we proudly serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Local Employment Laws
Pennsylvania employers may find it hard to keep up with local employment laws as states and municipalities pass legislation to regulate their workplaces. The federal congress has been largely deadlocked and unable to sign proposed bills into law, just as the Pennsylvania legislature and governor have not been able to enact a significant new workplace legislation. Local lawmakers have stepped in to fill the gaps. However, due to many factors such as size, the results are different for each city, leaving companies with employees located throughout the state to deal with a multitude of local workplace laws.
Philadelphia is a unique case in Pennsylvania, and a nationwide leader in strengthening workplace regulations. The size makes it a city of the first class and it has the authority to enact broad laws protecting workers. Under the Promoting Healthy Families and Workplace Ordinance, Philadelphia requires employers with 10 or more employees to provide up to one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, or approximately five days a year. It also has a “Ban the Box” ordinance, which prohibits employers from including questions about criminal records on job applications or asking employees at any time about criminal accusations or arrests that did not result in a conviction. Criminal background checks may only be conducted after a conditional offer of employment has been made. The Wage Theft Ordinance enables covered employees and organizations to pursue wage claims through a city wage theft coordinator.
The Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance of 1974 prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on enumerated characteristics. The law has been expanded and amended several times to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as to protect victims of domestic/sexual violence. The ordinance also covers accommodations for pregnancy more stringently than the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Further, it bans employer procurement and use of employee credit information in hiring, firing, promoting, or disciplining decisions. A December 2016 amendment also bans employers from asking prospective employees about their wage history or to use salary history as a basis for determining compensation.
The most recent amendment to the Fair Practices Ordinance gives authority to the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to shut down businesses for a specified period if they are found to have repeated severe violations without any effective attempt at remediation. Pennsylvania’s Home Rule Charter Law restricts the abilities of the state’s smaller municipalities to enact workplace regulations. However, many cities and municipalities, including Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, Reading, Scranton, and others have enacted ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Several also have Ban the Box ordinances that apply only to applications for municipal jobs, but do not affect private employers.
In August 2015, Pittsburgh enacted the Paid Sick Days Act, which has since come under fire. It was first struck down by the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas, and is now a matter before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The case is still pending and will set a legal precedent for other municipalities in the state. Local employment regulations have provoked a backlash at the state level, resulting in legislation such as the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act, which states that local ordinances may not supersede state law.
MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser is well versed in the complexities of Pennsylvania employment law and can provide you with highly skilled representation. Call 484-318-7106 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.
Budgeting for Ergonomics
If you own a business, there are many steps you can take to prevent workplace injuries from occurring. Not only do preventative measures help keep your bottom line low when it comes to Workers’ Compensation insurance premiums, but it also boosts employee morale. One thing many employers may not think much about is budgeting for ergonomic furniture and equipment. Ergonomic equipment helps to reduce the amount or repetitive motion-related injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also help reduce overexertion and bodily reaction injuries
When employees’ capabilities are mismatched with standard work in production processes, this can impact productivity metrics, resulting in even more waste and direct costs than injuries can. By paying attention to both the design and layout of your equipment, as well as the standard work practices of your employees, you can improve morale and lower your costs. Taking a thoughtful approach to utilizing ergonomics can help you ensure a high return on your investment.
An Investment in Employee Safety and Comfort
Every year, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company publishes a Safety Index. In the most recent published results (for 2016-2017), the Index identified the top ten causes of the most disabling workplace injuries in the United States. These injuries cost American employers over $62 billion total. Experts suggest that the actual costs related to these injuries are actually much higher, perhaps up to three times as high.
When budgeting for ergonomics, one should consider the impact on production overall—not just health and safety and human resources cost metrics. For example, if you own a factor with a large assembly line, having a comfortable, ergonomically sound set up can increase employee production. No one works well when they are in pain and physically uncomfortable.
First, consider training your employees who are responsible for ergonomics. This should eventually be all of your employees, or at least most of them. However, when beginning, if needed, start with those who are directly and immediately responsible for process design, operations, and continuous improvement. Also, train all employees to ensure that they understand ergonomics, and to ensure that they are using best work practices. For example, if your employees spend a lot of time typing, you should train them about how to ergonomically place the keyboard, and how to sit to avoid repetitive motion injuries.
Next, budget funds to purchase tools and equipment to properly assess, measure, and improve your work processes. For example, you may want to consider hiring an independent consultant to assess where your ergonomic resources will be best allocated. You may want to have these experts work with some internal personnel who understand your work processes. They can work together as a team to develop and carry out an effective and sustainable ergonomics improvement process.
You should also develop means of tracking improvement, so you can gauge the return you are getting on your investment. Determine which of your employees will be responsible for tracking progress and work with them to come up with a plan.
The data collected by Liberty Mutual suggests that health and safety losses for ergonomics-related issues likely account for about a third of your total EHS losses. Determining how much you will invest in ergonomics should depend on your total EHS losses, and also productivity assessments.
MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser provides advice and counsel to owners of small and mid-sized businesses. To discuss your business law matter, call 484-318-7106 or contact us online.
Proposed Legislation to Combat Bullying
The national “It’s On Us” campaign was launched in 2014 as a means to help put an end to campus sexual assault by educating, engaging and empowering students and communities. Last year, Pennsylvania launched its statewide campaign, “It’s On US, PA” to address sexual assault in schools and on college campuses. In support of this campaign, a Pennsylvania state representative is proposing legislation that would require schools to take a more active role in the prevention of not only sexual assault and harassment, but also bullying.
The state representative notes the link between bullying and sexual violence and emphasizes the need to address bullying where it begins, which is typically in middle school. Under the proposed legislation, the Department of Education would be tasked with developing uniform guidelines for schools regarding how to handle sexual assault, harassment, sexual harassment, dating violence and bullying. Schools would also be required to allow students to anonymously report instances of such abusive behavior.
Students Face Many Types of Violence
According to the state representative, states have been doing a better job of combating bullying over the last decade. However, teens and young adults still experience high rates of all types of violence, including sexual assault, bullying, harassment, relationship violence and abuse and neglect. In his memo to lawmakers, the state representative reports that such violence unfortunately often goes unreported. In fact, fewer than one in ten students who experience sexual assault report it to officials. He does not advocate for harsher penalties for those who engage in bullying but rather, he aims to help schools identify ways to stop abusive treatment.
The proposed bill is one of many in a package designed to support the governor’s “It’s On Us” campaign. The other bills would require colleges to offer a way to anonymously report sexual violence, grant reporting individuals amnesty from drug or alcohol policy violations, and adopt affirmative consent standards that require parties’ continual vocal expression of willingness to participate in sexual activities. The Department of Education would also have to create an annual report card for schools and colleges regarding sexual assault and harassment.
These are not the only proposed laws regarding bullying – a state senator has proposed legislation intended to make bullying a crime. Contrary to the state representative’s view that increased punishment is not the answer, the state senator believes that subjecting those who engage in bullying to criminal punishment is necessary because bullying behavior does not always fit into the legal definitions of existing criminal offenses such as assault. With staunch support for both sides of the debate, it remains to be seen which of the proposed bills will be passed into law.
Many new laws have recently been implemented to combat abusive behaviors in schools, including 2015 and 2016 legislation making hazing and cyber-bullying illegal. Pennsylvania lawmakers are now proposing additional legislation which would require schools to take certain steps towards stopping and preventing bullying. MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser provides schools in Chester County, West Chester, Philadelphia, Malvern and throughout Pennsylvania with the knowledgeable counseling they need to ensure their statutory and regulatory compliance. Contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106 to learn more about our services.
How Employers Can Minimize their Risk of Liability for Employment Discrimination
Statistics by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reveal employment discrimination lawsuits are on the rise. In 2010 alone, there were nearly 100,000 employment discrimination claims filed with the EEOC. As an employer, there are several preventive measures you can take to avoid becoming a defendant in an employment discrimination lawsuit.
In order to maintain a work environment that is free from discrimination and harassment, managers must be able to recognize and properly address all forms of employment discrimination. They must be trained so that the company’s anti-discrimination policy is properly implemented.
The anti-discrimination policy should make it clear that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the workplace. This includes discrimination based on race, national origin, sex or religion. Other forms of unacceptable behavior include harassment, bullying and retaliation.
Facilitation of employee reporting is another important aspect of the anti-discrimination policy. By including a choice of several methods for reporting incidents, employees can decide which method best suits their specific situation. The policy should also comply with due process and accordingly contain a procedure for appeals.
Federal law requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities. This may include installing ramps for those in wheelchairs or providing an interpreter for the hearing impaired. The employer may work together with the employee to determine a suitable accommodation.
Employee complaints should be addressed in a prompt and professional manner. Sometimes, what seems like a small issue in the moment, can actually be a burgeoning employee discrimination lawsuit. The potential inconvenience of providing certain accommodations is certainly overshadowed by the inconvenience of defending a lawsuit.
Employers involved in employment discrimination lawsuits often find themselves lacking the evidence they need to assert a successful defense. It is important to ensure you have the proof you need should an employment discrimination claim be filed in the future.
Document all your email and verbal conversations with employees. Keep records of explanations for decisions regarding employee disciplinary action and firing. Proof that you implemented a fair feedback system and attempted to improve an employee’s performance prior to termination can be useful evidence that they were not fired for a discriminatory reason. Also, document the reasons for not hiring employees. If an applicant who was not hired files suit, it will be helpful to have proof that they were passed over based on a non-discriminatory reason.
Policy training should also be documented. There are many online options for employee training that require signatures indicating employees have been informed of and understand employer policies. This documentation is valuable evidence that may be presented to a jury should an employment discrimination lawsuit arise.
Common Legal Compliance Issues Faced by Churches
There has been a sea of changes over the past few decades regarding how the government regards churches. Church administrators who are relying on outdated legal information may not only be exposing themselves to tax issues, but they may also be missing out on benefits and tax exemptions that the government has recently made available to them.
Congress and the IRS have taken a keen interest in the activities of nonprofits and churches after years of abuse of regulations and loopholes by parties who are not lawfully entitled to benefits. This abuse resulted in the enactment of section 4958 as well as the Exempt Organizations Executive Compensation Compliance Project (“the Project”). The Project resulted in numerous compliance check letters being sent to thousands of organizations. Many of the examinations that opened with the Project are still going on today. The Report found that there were significant reporting issues, and issues with compliance with federal laws. Violations of tax laws uncovered by the Project have resulted in millions of dollars in fines.
Some of the main compliance issues faced by churches include failure to record activities properly, taking bad advice from the government, church nurseries, changes in the legal definition of a minister, and changes to tax withholdings and deposits.
Churches that participate in a significant number of non-exempt activities are at risk losing their tax-exempt status. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a single nonexempt purpose, if substantial in nature, could preclude an organization from qualifying as a 501(c). These days, with reductions in congregation size, churches must engage in various other activities to stay afloat, including renting out facilities, bake sales, or running a food service during non-religious events. Churches can engage in these activities, but they must be handled so as to be related to the church’s charitable purpose.
Many churches rely on the advice of IRS employees. In 2011, The Court ruled that the advice of IRS employees is not binding on the agency. This means that every church should seek the advice of an attorney or certified public accountant, as necessary.
Church nurseries must be outfitted with cribs that are compliant with federal code. Insurance companies also often require organizations to be compliant with these regulations. This means that churches should not accept donated cribs for use in their nurseries. It is even risky to donate these cribs to the needy, as it can jeopardize a church’s tax-exempt status and expose it to liability in the event of an injury in one of the cribs.
Defining Church Leaders
In 2012, the Supreme Court questioned whether someone calling themselves a “minister” was enough to confer a tax-exempt status. The ruling turned out to be favorable to religious organizations. Even if most of a minister’s duties are clerical and educational, they may still be considered a minister under the law. You do not need to be devoted to religious ministry exclusively to be legally considered a minister.
Finally, all employees of the church must have taxes withheld, and they must be paid to the IRS electronically using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. Most churches must pay payroll taxes on a monthly basis. There are fees for deposits that are made late to the IRS.