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Campuses Fight Sexual Violence

An estimated one in every 10 undergraduate or graduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. That is a sobering statistic and one the state of Pennsylvania is working to reduce. In January 2020, the Pennsylvania Education Department began distributing $1 million in grants among 36 different colleges and universities across the state to staff and to provide services for victims of campus rape and sexual assault.

While one in 10 students overall will potentially be raped or sexually assaulted at college, the number increases significantly when you look primarily at undergraduates. Among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of women and 5.4 percent of men are sexually victimized on campus. What is even more concerning about these crimes is that victims are not always willing to report them. Only 20 percent of female student victims between the ages of 18 to 24 report sexual crimes to law enforcement, leaving perpetrators free to victimize others. Only one out of every six college-aged sexual assault survivors accepts help from a victim services agency.

Higher Education Programs to Help Assault Survivors

In June 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Wolf signed Act 16 into law, which requires colleges and universities to beef up their services for students who are sexually assaulted. Institutions of higher learning must meet two categories of requirements. First, every school must have an online system for students and employees to report complaints of sexual harassment and assault. An effective notification system discloses who is receiving assault complaints, how this information will be used, and where victims can go for help on campus.

Next, colleges and universities must have a clear sexual harassment and assault policy that addresses:

  • The definition of consent and the concept of incapacitation
  • Who the institution considers responsible employees that have the authority and the power to report sexual harassment
  • A distinction between a complaint of sexual misconduct and a report, and the procedures for handling each
  • The rights of both parties, including the respondent who should be notified of the alleged misconduct
  • A standard of proof by which it is determined if misconduct occurred

These new guidelines for Pennsylvania colleges and universities combined with the upwards of $1 million in grants will hopefully make significant progress in reducing the number of assaults among college-aged students, while also eliminating the stigma of reporting them.

In Pennsylvania, colleges and universities have the tools to help prevent sexual assault, raise awareness of the problem among students and staff, and encourage victims to report sexual violence. However, some victims may still feel more could have been done to prevent an assault. At MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser, our attorneys represent Pennsylvania’s institutions of higher learning battling serious claims that may damage their reputation and status in the community. To learn more about our services, call 484-318-7106 or use the online form for an initial consultation. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia and Chester County.

Are Your Workers Misclassified?

Today’s businesses rely on temporary staffing, independent contractors, and outside consulting firms opposed to hiring employees to meet their needs. However, employers may be liable when they incorrectly classify these workers as independent contractors. It is important to classify workers appropriately or risk facing stiff penalties from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Labor.

Businesses may be tempted to classify workers as independent contractors due to cost savings from not having to pay social security and employment taxes. Independent contractors are not covered under unemployment or Workers’ Compensation insurance, and they are not eligible for health care and leave of absence benefits. Their taxes are also not withheld by the company. However, employers are simply not aware of the nuances of employee classification and mistakenly believe that they correctly classified them as an independent contractor.

How Does Misclassification Occur?

A misclassification occurs when an employer classifies a worker as an independent contractor when they should be classified as an employee.   Both intentional and unintentional misclassifications carry penalties for employers from the IRS and Department of Labor. When the misclassification is intentional, the employer may be liable for 100 percent of the worker’s taxes.  Employers may be liable for almost 40 percent of the workers taxes when their misclassification is unintentional.

Governments lose considerable amounts of tax revenue due to employer misclassification of workers prompting a recent crackdown and increased scrutiny of employer classifications of their workers. Employment taxes withheld cause revenue losses for the Social Security Administration, Medicare, state unemployment, and workers compensation funds.  Because of the losses incurred, government agencies, such as the IRS and Department of Labor, have an incentive to monitor and audit employers for misclassification. Furthermore, the Department of Labor wants to protect workers so that they receive all that they are entitled to as employees and prevent employer abuse.

Worker Classification

Classification of workers as independent contractors may trigger audits by the IRS. When determining whether a worker is an independent contractor, the IRS looks at several factors to determine the degree of independence and control the independent contractor exerts in their work. The following considerations are used to determine the appropriate worker classification:

Behavior Factors: Behavioral factors include the degree of control the company has over the worker. Does the employer provide training, guidelines, equipment, and tools? Are the functions provided executive and managerial in nature?

Financial Factors: Financial factors look at how the worker is compensated. A true independent contractor would provide invoices that account for profits and losses. An employee is paid a steady amount on a periodic basis.

Our team of attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser provide human resource counseling, as well as employment-related services. It is not worth triggering an audit and risking penalties from the IRS or Department of Labor. Call us today at 484-318-7106 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia and Chester County.

Leasing Commercial and Rental Properties in Pennsylvania

The lease agreement is the governing document of the relationship between the owner of the property and the tenant. There are risks involved for both landlords and tenants when entering a leasing arrangement. Often, the rent payment is the largest expense incurred in a business. Therefore, it is prudent to obtain counsel of experienced attorneys to ensure the terms of the agreement are clear and comprehensive.

In general, a lease agreement must state the term of the occupancy, the amount of rent expected, the amount of the security deposit, rules regarding whether pets are allowed and whether the lease may be assigned, and property sublet.  Due to the nature of this relationship, the Pennsylvania legal system regulates some aspects of rental agreements. According to state laws, the following terms ensure protections for both parties.

Security Deposits. A security deposit is the amount of money the tenant is required to pay to the owner to cover unpaid rent, damages to the property, costs of repairs and cleaning charges once the lease ends. However, according to Pennsylvania’s laws, the security deposit may not be more than two months’ rent for the first year and it must be returned within 30 days after the lease ends. The deposit also incurs interest if it is held for more than two years.

Overdue Rent. Landlords are required to provide a grace period of 10 days for payment of overdue rent. However, after the 10 days have expired, if no payment has been made, the landlord can evict the tenant.

Repairs. Landlords are required to make repairs for things that affect the tenant’s habitability of the property, such as plumbing, heating, and roof and window leaks. If the landlord fails to repair issues within a reasonable time, the tenant can lawfully withhold the rent.

Fair Leasing Practices. Landlords are liable for discrimination based on race, age, religion, color, sex, national origin, handicap, disability, family status, and ancestry.

Commercial Leases

A commercial lease is more complicated than a residential lease. Most residential leases are standard agreements that require little negotiation. However, commercial leases are negotiable and hold fewer standard agreements to work from. There are also less state law protections for commercial lease agreements.  Commercial tenants should work carefully to define the relationships with the owner to ensure that each is aware of their responsibilities. The following terms are unique to commercial leases:

Improvements. Lease agreement should address whether the tenant can make improvements and modifications to the property and whether tenant must return the unit in its original condition when the lease ends.

Description of Property. Lease should clearly state whether the bathrooms, hallways, and parking are included in the rent payment.

Exclusivity. An exclusivity clause may be important in a commercial lease to prevent the landlord from renting another space in the lot to a competitor.

Signage. Considers whether the agreement prevents the use of signage.

Americans with Disabilities Act. A business that is open to the public and has over 15 employees is subject to the American with Disabilities Act, which requires that the premises be accessible to the disabled.  A lease agreement should determine the party responsible for compliance with the law.

When considering leasing a commercial property, rely on the trusted and experienced small business lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser. Our attorneys will listen carefully to your needs and negotiate a lease agreement that protects your business interests. For an initial consultation, call us at 484-318-7106 or contact us online. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Chester County and Philadelphia.

Guidelines to Ensure Title IX Compliance

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that was enacted in 1972 to prevent gender-based discrimination in educational programs that receive federal financial aid.  Schools are subjected to this law and need to ensure that all school activities and programs are compliant. However, many schools are unaware of the law and the need to implement compliance policies in their schools. Schools can incur litigation costs averaging thousands of dollars if they violated the law. It is important for schools to create policies and practices to ensure compliance to avoid unnecessary litigation costs.

Educators need to know that Title IX requires that they provide equal opportunities to all students who engage in school-related activities, including online and school-based electronic learning environments.

Policies and Guidelines for Educators

All schools should strive to prevent discrimination in any school-related activity. School administrators and principals can also prepare their schools by implementing the following practices:

  • Appoint a Title IX Coordinator. Appointing a member of the staff as the Title IX coordinator in the school is a good practice. One staff member is designated and responsible for understanding and being apprised of the law. It is important to appoint someone who is fair, balanced, and unbiased.

This individual can ensure that all other staff members are also educated in the law. They can arrange regular training sessions, invite speakers to educate staff, and check in on all school-sponsored activities to make sure they are compliant. This person can also guide others in best practices and assist parents in their complaints.

  • Continually Educate Staff on the Law. Since there is a lack of awareness of the law, schools should make it a practice to hold workshops and educational sessions on the law periodically. This law can have broad effects as gender discrimination can include gender identification, sexual identification, sexual orientation, binary gender, bullying, and harassment. Because the law can influence a broad range of behavior, periodic training sessions should prevent inadvertent acts that may be discriminatory.
  • School culture. Schools should instill a culture and environment that respects gender equality. They should also create awareness amongst all stakeholders in the community, and strive to diminish them.
  • Schools should have a clear procedure for notifications of complaints and how to address them. Schools should also respond to complaints and make investigations of the claims immediately.

Guidance for Parents

Parents who believe that their child was subjected to discrimination based on gender should notify their school administration. Parents can start by requesting that the school identify their Title IX coordinator. They can also review school policies or request the handbook to ascertain school policies with regard to discrimination. If the school does not respond adequately, parents should reach out to the school district or superintendent. If no one responds, parents can notify the public through media outlets and or file a formal complaint.

The education lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser are experienced in all aspects of law related to schools and educational institutions. Our counsel has vast experience from advising schools on policies and practices to effective representation in litigation. For legal representation on education-related matters, please contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Chester County and Philadelphia.