Employee Health: Pennsylvania
Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.
Author: Leanne Coffman, The Safety Training Solution LLC
- Pennsylvania recognizes medical conditions, including dermal infections and inflammations, Hepatitis C and certain lung diseases as compensable under the state workers' compensation law. See Occupational Diseases.
- Hepatitis C may be considered a work-sourced illness if contracted by firefighters or other persons with occupational exposure. See Presumptive Illnesses and Conditions.
- Pennsylvania prohibits smoking in the majority of public places, including workplaces. See Smoking in the Workplace.
- Pennsylvania permits the use of medical marijuana. See Medical Marijuana Act.
- Pennsylvania has a Good Samaritan law, which provides conditional protection for those offering voluntary medical care. See Good Samaritan Law.
Managing Day-to-Day Health Concerns
Pennsylvania recognizes medical conditions, including dermal reactions, infections and inflammations of the skin due to exposure to dusts or chemicals, as well as silicosis and certain lung diseases as compensable under the state workers' compensation law.
Occupational exposure resulting in diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis C or other infectious forms of hepatitis are also covered by the workers' compensation law.
Presumptive Illnesses and Conditions
Hepatitis C may be considered a work-sourced illness if contracted by firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, police officers and other persons with known job-related exposure, such as correctional employees.
Affected employers should implement an employment screening program for Hepatitis C that meets the guidelines established by the state. Initial screenings for new hires in the above categories, as well as future interval testing should be administered.
Firefighters who develop diseases of the lungs or heart, as well as certain cancers, may be covered for their disability/condition, under presumptive evidence that such conditions were work-related.
To gain coverage, the firefighter must be employed four or more years and pass initial and routine medical examinations. Evidence of certain personal health factors or medical history may cause denial of coverage.
Managing Mental Health Concerns
In Pennsylvania, to gain compensation for a mental health injury, the worker must provide sufficient evidence that the working conditions were abnormal and not a response to routine working conditions.
Additionally, pre-existing conditions, such as a history of anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns, may cause denial of coverage.
Managing Substance Abuse
Drug or Alcohol Addiction
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits employment discrimination because of an employee's real or perceived disability, which may include a drug or alcohol addiction. However, the protections in the Act do not extend to the current, illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance.
Smoking in the Workplace
Pennsylvania's Clean Indoor Air Act prohibits smoking in the majority of public places, including workplaces. +35 P.S. § 637.3.
Smoking means the carrying by a person of a lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe or other smoking device.
Public place is defined as an enclosed area that serves as a workplace or commercial establishment or an area where the public is invited or permitted (e.g., facilities providing education, food or health care-related services; mass transportation vehicles and stations; sports or recreational facilities; and theaters).
Workplace means an indoor area serving as a place of employment, occupation, business, trade, craft, professional or volunteer activity.
An employer must prominently post and properly maintain "Smoking" or "No Smoking" signs or the international "No Smoking" symbol where smoking is regulated by the law. A "Smoking Permitted" sign must be prominently posted and maintained at every entrance where smoking is permitted under the law. +35 P.S. § 637.4.
An employer is prohibited from terminating an employee, refusing to hire a job applicant or retaliating against an employee because the individual exercises a right to a smoke-free environment required under the law. +35 P.S. § 637.2.
The smoking ban does not apply to:
- Designated guest rooms (no more than 25% of rooms);
- Tobacco shops;
- Tobacco industry facilities;
- Certain care facilities (e.g., long-term care, treatment programs);
- Certain private clubs;
- Certain fundraisers;
- Certain tobacco promotion or sampling events;
- Cigar bars;
- Drinking establishments;
- Up to 50% of a licensed gaming facility; and
- Designated outdoor smoking areas within the confines of a sports or recreational facility, theater or performance establishment.
E-cigarettes are banned in public places in the city of Philadelphia.
Medical Marijuana Act
A serious medical condition includes:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS);
- Parkinson's disease;
- Multiple sclerosis;
- Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity;
- Inflammatory bowel disease;
- Huntington's disease;
- Crohn's disease;
- Post-traumatic stress disorder;
- Intractable seizures;
- Sickle cell anemia;
- Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective;
- Anxiety disorders; and
- Tourette syndrome.
Patients must have a valid identification card issued by the Department of Health of the Commonwealth, which authorizes the patient to obtain and use medical marijuana as authorized by the law. +35 P.S. § 10231.303; +35 P.S. § 10231.501; +35 P.S. § 10231.508.
An employer may not terminate, threaten, refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee regarding the employee's compensation, terms, conditions, locations or privileges solely on the basis of the employee's status as a certified medical marijuana user. +35 P.S. § 10231.2103.
However, an employer may prohibit an employee from performing the following while under the influence of medical marijuana:
- Any job duty at heights or in confined spaces, including, but not limited to, mining;
- Any task that the employer deems life-threatening to the employee or other workers; or
- Any duty that could result in a public health or safety risk.
In addition, an individual may not undertake any task under the influence of medical marijuana when doing so would constitute negligence, professional malpractice or professional misconduct. +35 P.S. § 10231.510.
Nothing in the law requires an employee to accommodate the use of medical marijuana on its premises or property or limits an employer's ability to discipline an employee for being under the influence in the workplace or for working while under the influence when the employee's conduct falls below the standard of care normally accepted for his or her position. +35 P.S. § 10231.510.
While medical marijuana use may be legal under Pennsylvania law, it is still a Schedule I substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, and is therefore illegal under federal law. The Medical Marijuana Act does not require an employer to commit any act that would put it or any of its agents in violation of federal law.
Managing Emergency Medical Situations
Pennsylvania has Good Samaritan Laws that provide conditional civil immunity to persons providing voluntary emergency medical care.
Under the state's rules for Nonmedical Good Samaritan civil immunity, persons who are not medical professionals and are engaged in first aid, rescue or emergency care, or who move the victim to offer care or seek treatment, are not liable for civil damages.
However, to gain protection offered by the state, the following conditions must apply:
- The care must not be intended to harm, or demonstrate evidence of gross negligence or omissions which result in damages to the victim;
- Drivers of ambulances or other rescue vehicles are not protected under this statute if liabilities arise from operating or use of such a vehicle;
- If the responder has been trained in first aid, advanced life support, or basic life support from accredited sources such as the American Red Cross or American Heart Association, they must perform care consistent with the training received.
The state also has laws impacting the use of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs), which make certain requirements of owners.
To be protected from liability the following guidelines must be observed:
- Appropriate training for expected users must be provided;
- Testing and maintenance of the AED must be performed according to the manufacturer's operational guidelines; and
- Individuals trained to use an AED must be instructed to contact emergency medical services if they use the device.
Managing an At-Work Fatality
Employers must report workplace fatalities to the Pennsylvania Division of Workers' Compensation within twenty-four hours of the event.
Additionally, employers are required to notify OSHA regarding all workplace fatalities. According to federal guidelines, employers must contact OSHA within eight hours of the fatality.
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