Hot topics in the news
It seems like the headlines these days are filled with so many stories that have a legal aspect to them. Many times we hear from people who are simply asking what the laws are in Pennsylvania and if these news stories have any impact on their daily lives.
Below are some hot topics in the news recently and how they may affect all of us.
PENNSYLVANIA’S MANDATORY REPORTING STATUTE FOR CHILD ABUSE
Given the recent developments with the Penn State abuse scandal, many people are wondering exactly who is responsible for reporting suspected child abuse. In addition, some clients who have pending claims through the CYF system also have questions relating to abuse allegations. Some common questions:
1. Who is actually required by law to report suspected abuse?
Pennsylvania law states that any person, who in the course of his/her employment, occupation, or practice of a profession, comes into contact with children shall report when the person has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of his/her medical, professional, or other training and experience that a child under the care, supervision, or guidance of that person or some other entity or agency with whom that person is affiliated is a victim of child abuse. This includes physicians and nurses, dentists, hospital admissions personnel, school teachers, nurses and administrators, social workers, day care employees, and law enforcement personnel. Again, any person whose job requires him/her to come into contact with children is a mandated reporter.
2. When a complaint is made, to whom is it directed and is a record made of the person reporting the suspected abuse?
Complaints can be made to authorities, but they are handled through the Pennsylvania ChildLine and Abuse Registry known as “ChildLine” (1-800-932-0313). ChildLine accepts and assigns reports of child and student abuse to county children and youth agencies for investigation. ChildLine may also provide information and referral services for families and children.
Pennsylvania law requires mandated reporters to provide their names and contact information, either at the time of the initial oral report or as part of a written report. If the report of suspected abuse comes in through ChildLine and it is NOT a mandated reporter, the report CAN be made anonymously.
3. If the allegations of abuse are found to be untrue, can the person who made the false allegations be sued or arrested for filing a false complaint?
The Child Protective Services Law assumes that any person reporting a case of suspected child abuse has done so in good faith. That being said, he/she is immune from both criminal and civil liability.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE
More and more accusers are coming forward alleging that various political officials and candidates for office have either engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct or sexually harassed them during the course of their employment. While this is no doubt newsworthy, here are some common questions we frequently receive from people in our area, and a brief outline of what to do.
1. What exactly is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment comes in many forms in the workplace, but generally it’s legally split into two types: quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile environment. Quid pro quo harassment means “something for something.” You do something for me and I’ll do something for you. This basically means that job benefits are tied to submitting to sexual advances or are denied because of refusing them.
Hostile environment harassment involves employees being subjected to comments of a sexual nature, offensive sexual materials, or unwelcome physical contact as a regular part of the work environment. Usually, a single isolated incident isn’t considered hostile environment harassment unless it is extremely outrageous and egregious conduct. The courts look to see whether the conduct is both serious and frequent.
- Document, document, document. Put everything in writing and establish a paper trail. If you are having difficulty with a supervisor or co-worker, file a written complaint. Memories can fail and you are much better off having an actual record of what has transpired.
- If you feel that a prospective employer is asking questions in an interview that are inappropriate, you can and should refuse to answer them.
- With respect to any type of pregnancy discrimination or FMLA claim, again, follow your internal procedure for reporting complaints and then speak with an attorney to ensure your rights are protected.
BULLYING LAWS IN PENNSYLVANIA
Despite best efforts to curb the amount of bullying both in schools and online, the practice still continues. A brief primer:
Pennsylvania does have a statute on bullying in schools or the school setting which includes a provision for bullying through electronic means.
The Pennsylvania law as it is written requires schools to have written policies, made available to students, which address bullying and the persons to whom complaints should be made. It also defines bullying as:
An intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act, or a series of acts:
(1) directed at another student or students;
(2) which occurs in a school setting;
(3) that is severe, persistent or pervasive; and
(4) that has the effect of doing any of the following:
(I) substantially interfering with a student’s education;
(II) creating a threatening environment; or
(III) substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school; and “school setting" shall mean in the school, on school grounds, in school vehicles, at a designated bus stop or at any activity sponsored, supervised, or sanctioned by the school.
Bullying that occurs outside of school and that rises to the level of criminal activity can still be charged under existing harassment laws which also include provisions for harassment through Internet postings and e-mails.
TEXTING WHILE DRIVING
Recently Pennsylvania HAS passed a bill banning texting while driving. A quick listing of what the bill bans and your penalties for non-compliance:
Pennsylvania’s new statute banning texting while driving was passed in early November and goes into effect in early March. It does the following:
- Prohibits as a primary offense all drivers from using an Interactive Wireless Communication Device (IWCD) to send, read, or write a text-based message. This means that you can be stopped and ticketed for even reading a text message.
- Defines an IWCD as a wireless phone, personal digital assistant, smart phone, portable or mobile computer, or similar devices that can be used for texting, instant messaging, e-mailing or browsing the Internet.
- Defines a text-based message as a text message, instant message, e-mail or other written communication composed or received on an IWCD.
- Institutes a $50 fine for convictions under this section.
- Makes clear that this law supersedes and preempts any local ordinances
restricting the use of interactive wireless devices by drivers.
As always for a referral to an attorney practicing in any of the areas listed above, please contact the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555 or visit our website at www.acbalrs.org.