Q: I was an independent contractor working for a shipping company, we had a pending damage claim from a customer for $2400. The owner of the company told me that he would take care of it, then arrange a payment plan. But without notification he took $50 a week for a month from my check. Then on Dec 29 after telling the owner of the company that I was looking for other employment, he deposited a check into my account then withdrew all of it out, again without any communication or notification. How would I seek restitution for this issue?
A: You might have some luck by filing with the PA Department of Labor and Industry Wage Collection Bureau in Pittsburgh. If they have jurisdiction over your case, they will go after the employer at no cost to you. They went after my client, a subcontractor, for not paying a dry wall person.
Q: I work at an electronics company and I reached into a box of parts and there was a syringe with a sharp needle on it. I phoned my supervisor and left a message about what happened. I work the graveyard shift. I said I what happened and for him and another employee to look into it. When I came in the next day he was by himself. I asked where is Vicky. He said he would get the vice president of the company involved. I came back, and he said that we had to write an incident report on it and they will look into it at their next safety meeting. I was really mad because other employees have been giving me a hard time and I have talked to him about it and he does very little to help me. I took the box and needle and walked out. I was frustrated with his lack of concern for my safety. I told him I was done with all the stuff they were doing to me and to talk to my attorney. I left, and they kept calling me on my way home. I finally talked to the VP about some of the things other people were doing to me. He told me to take the night off and bring the box and needle back on Monday. Now I would like copies of all emails to see if they really were being truthful to me. (Blawnox, PA)
A: I assume you are talking about what appears to be a used hypodermic needle. If you were punctured by the needle I would not return the box to your employer until you can verify that you are medically safe. Take the box and needle to an employment attorney. He or she should advise you to have the needle tested by a lab for any infectious disease. This will verify if your health has been jeopardized. You are likely on thin ice with your employer. PA is an “at will” employment sate and you can be fired for any reason other than sex, age, race and religion. Even if you were not injured by the needle, this will be the only evidence you have to contest your application for unemployment compensation if you are fired and you apply. It also may provide some basis for a wrongful termination suit, perhaps under whistle blower laws, but you need to confirm that with an attorney who practices in that area. In regard to emails your company has issued and maintained, you have no right to them, unless you can independently get copies from your computer or smart phone or another person’s devices. If litigation would start, your attorney can file under discovery rules for them or subpoena them
Q: I contacted my past employer for unpaid wages. It’s been a month and I’ve sent a letter demanding pay. The manager stated it has been mailed multiple times in the past but I still have not received the check. This has not only led to me not getting paid for the holiday season. I was also delinquent and fined for not paying contractually obligated payments due to not having the funds in the bank. Is there any legal recourse I can take to not only get my original check but compensation for delinquency? (Greentree, PA)
A: An attorney would need more facts to determine if the employer’s actions rise to the level needed for them to be civilly liable for late payments. If you are still not paid, contact the PA Department of Labor and Industry, Wage and Hour division. They can do everything from giving you advice to filing a claim against the employer for you.
Q: I lost my job and suffer from medical conditions. I was behind in payments and just gave up. They took it out of my doctor’s parking lot, and I had to walk home.
A: Your options are to defend the suit if they sue you and/or try to settle with them for payments. You can also talk to a bankruptcy attorney and see whether filing under Chapter 7 is an option for you.
Q: Can my boss tell me I’m not eligible for a paid holiday when everyone else who worked that week got paid for it? I don’t get holiday pay even though I always had holiday pay. He said I am still getting sick time and vacation pay. Can he do this? I am the only employee that isn’t getting holiday pay.
A: If you have no organized labor protection, you have very few rights as an employee in PA unless there is a violation of federal law such as racial, sexual or age discrimination. The Commonwealth of PA Department of Labor and Industry, Wage and Hour division can provide help to an employee who is not paid by their employer for work done. Look in the phone book or on line for a phone number. Perhaps they can at least give you advice.
Q: I am in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. I paid the trustee some money and it is being distributed to my creditors. The case will be open for several more months. In the meantime, I have reached the age of 62 1/2 and I am going to cash out my pension, roll most of it over to a 401K and use the remainder to pay off my mortgage. My mortgage lender has agreed to very reasonable amount of money. Can I go ahead the do this deal while my bankruptcy is still pending? Do I need the court’s permission?
A: Generally, it is not a good idea to withdraw money from your pension to pay off a mortgage, especially while in Chapter 7. u would almost certainly be converting an exempt asset to a non-exempt asset, which may cause significant problems and even loss of property. You should wait and be sure to discuss any such plans with your bankruptcy attorney.
Q: A locksmith company has used my home address as their business address. I have a Notary business that I use my address for. I contacted them and they won’t respond. It is advertised in Yellow Pages and on line.
A: I would start with Yellow Pages. It will be hard to reach a decision maker at YP, but eventually you will. At least they can correct the on line listing immediately. The printed books cannot be changed until next year’s books are printed. Check and see if this locksmith uses your address in other business directories. If he or she does, then you know he or she is the problem and not YP. There are services such as Yext who will correct then sync all of your on line listings on dozens of various search engines for a fee. Send a certified letter to the locksmith. If that doesn’t work, hire a lawyer to obtain a cease and desist order from a court. You can also have a google savvy person or IT person look at all of your on line listings to see if it is only YP or all of your on line listings which are in error. That would be a good starting point
Q: Is it wise to open a separate bank to avoid unpaid bills if a creditor attempts to put a freeze on your (spousal) account? I am in the midst of attempting to settle a debt with a creditor; I know it is a possibility for them to freeze my bank account; but I also know they are unable to garnish anything from it because it is a spousal account. I am wondering if it is wise for me to open another account and have our money moved to that account so we would be able to pay our bills in lieu of the process of them freezing/unfreezing the account?
A: Talk to a consumer attorney first. You need to determine if you even need to pay this debt or should pay this debt. If you have been dealing with a creditor collections person, you may have been misled and bluffed. No creditor can lien personal or real property or garnish wages without giving you notice of suit, suing you and getting a judgment. As far as opening the new account, it may be a logical short term strategy, but not for the long term. If there is a judgment, the creditor can find this account and you could commit fraud by moving accounts to avoid collection.
Q: Who’s responsible for property damage when a hillside is collapsing? The neighbors behind us moved in two years ago and when they did I asked them to please remove the giant slabs of concrete that were sitting on top of the hill on the edge of the property. Our yard sits probably 10 feet below theirs. Well the slabs have slid down the hill side as I knew they would, collapsing the hillside into my wooden privacy fence causing damage. Who is legally responsible to stabilize the hill and fixing my fence, us or them?
A: I would have to research the duty of a landowner to prevent a condition on his property that damages neighboring property to give you a proper answer. The last time I looked at this was in 2008 and I did find case law on this issue. My recollection is that such a duty does exist, if certain conditions are met. If you engage a lawyer, it will cost you. Your first step should be to contact the city or borough code enforcement officer and see if he or she can help. This might be a code violation of some sort and perhaps the neighbor could be cited, which would or should case him to remedy the condition.
Q: Is it recommended that I have a lawyer when going to an Allegheny County arbitration hearing? This hearing is for an appeal to a small claims court ruling.
A: It is highly recommended if you can afford it. It is called Arbitration and has a jurisdictional limit of claims 50K and lower and your case is heard by a panel of three attorneys instead of a judge or formal. Although it appears somewhat less formal than a judge or jury setting, the rules of civil procedure and evidence still apply. The person who knows these rules has the upper hand which generally means those who are represented will do better. This is especially true if the other side has an attorney. If that is the case, the other attorney can limit your testimony with objections based on the rules of evidence, such as foundation, hearsay, lack of discovery notice, etc. If the other side has no attorney, some arbitration panels will help you and the other litigant sort out your problem, and try to do justice, although don’t take that for granted. Even if the Arbitration Board is that gracious, you still may lose your case based on your lack of knowledge of the rules of procedure and rules of evidence.