Philadelphia Ordinances – What Do They Mean for Employers?

By Eric J. Schreiner

While all employers with employees in Pennsylvania need to be aware of the various federal and state laws that govern their treatment of employees or prospective employees, employers with employees in the City of Philadelphia should also be aware of City ordinances that govern their conduct. While there is overlap with state and federal law and Philadelphia ordinances, there are instances,  where Philadelphia ordinances provide greater protections for employees than federal or state law.

For example, the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance generally prohibits an employer from denying or interfering with the employment opportunities of an individual based on race, ethnicity, color, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition), sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, marital status, familial status, genetic information, or domestic or sexual violence victim status. An employer with employees in Philadelphia cannot refuse to hire, fire, deny promotion to, or otherwise discriminate against any person based on the above listed characteristics.

The Fair Practices Ordinance provides even greater protection to employees than federal or Pennsylvania law. For example, neither federal nor Pennsylvania law expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in private employment, but the Fair Practices Ordinance does. In addition, the Fair Practices Ordinance provides even greater protection to employees because, unlike federal and Pennsylvania law, it requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition regardless of whether the employee actually has a pregnancy or childbirth related disability.

Other Philadelphia Ordinances provide protections to employees that are not found under federal or state law. For example in 2011, Philadelphia enacted the Fair Criminal Records Screening Standards, or “Ban the Box,” Ordinance. This ordinance requires employers to remove questions about criminal convictions from their job applications (i.e., the “box”). It also prevents employers from conducting criminal background checks before a first interview of an applicant and prohibits employers from asking an applicant about criminal convictions before or during a first interview. It further prohibits employers from asking about, or taking adverse action based upon, arrests or criminal accusations that are not pending at the time of the inquiry and which did not result in a conviction.

In addition, Philadelphia enacted the “Domestic Violence Unpaid Leave” Ordinance. This ordinance allows an employee to take an unpaid leave of absence from work so that the employee, or someone in the employee’s family or household, can get medical attention, legal assistance or other help in dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. The amount of leave an employee is entitled to take varies based on the size of the employer and the amount of Family Medical Leave Act leave that the employee has used. While an employee is on leave the employer must continue providing benefits to the employee and upon the employee’s return from leave the employer must reinstate the employee to his or her original position or a comparable position.

The ordinances described above are just some examples of how Philadelphia law governing Philadelphia employers differs from state and federal law. Employers should be sure to consider these laws whenever they make decisions concerning employees or prospective employees. If you would like more information on this issue and how it could affect your business, please contact Eric J. Schreiner at (215) 496-7217 or [email protected].