WILKES-BARRE — A coalition of 11 state Attorneys General has voiced serious concerns about a Department of Labor program that gives employers a free pass to pay overdue wages without penalty.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week strongly opposed the recently announced Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) Program — a pilot project of the U.S. Department of Labor. The program allows employers who violate labor laws to simply pay back wages, without interest or penalty, instead of facing prosecution for wage theft.
“This program will allow employers to essentially take interest-free loans out of their employees’ paychecks — including workers who rely on their wages to pay for rent, groceries and other essential items,” Shapiro said. “This program undermines and erodes my authority as Attorney General to protect workers in our Commonwealth using state law protections. Employers should not be able to violate labor laws without legal consequence. If the Department of Labor won’t protect workers, I will.”
Some of the program’s highlights:
• Encourages employers to require their employees to waive important state law protections, like higher minimum wage levels and longer time periods to sue, in exchange for the employer’s payment of overdue wages.
• Allows employers currently under investigation by Attorneys General or state labor enforcement agencies to participate in the PAID program. Employers must certify they are “not specifically aware of any recent complaints” made by employees, but many employers would not have knowledge of complaints made or ongoing investigations.
• Permits employers to conduct self-audits with the hope that employers will self-report violations and correct them without oversight by other agencies.
“Allowing employers to self-audit and report is like Americans auditing their own tax returns and reporting themselves to the IRS if they were dishonest, in order to avoid interest, penalties and fines,” Shapiro said in a press release.
The PAID pilot program will be implemented nationwide for approximately six months, at which point it will be evaluated by the Department of Labor and potentially made permanent.
Pa. Revenue Department extends
hours to help late-season tax filers
With the deadline to file personal income tax returns quickly approaching — Tuesday, April 17 — the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is extending service hours for taxpayers to get help by phone, Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell announced this week.
The Taxpayer Service and Information Center will be open 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays through Tuesday, the filing deadline to submit 2017 tax returns.
Taxpayers can speak to a department representative by calling 717-787-8201. Assistance is also available through the department’s Online Customer Service Center. Both options provide taxpayers with answers to specific questions about 2017 tax returns and the department’s electronic filing, or e-filing, options.
Pennsylvanians can file their state tax returns by using the following paper-less e-filing options:
• Padirectfile — A free, state-only personal income tax filing system is available through the Department of Revenue’s website.
• E-filing for free — Options are available to file state and federal returns using software from a reputable vendor. Some vendors impose income limits for free services.
• E-filing for a fee — Some commercial tax-preparation software comes with a charge.
E-filing offers advantages not available to taxpayers filing by paper, including error-reducing automatic calculators, confirmation of successful filing, faster refund processing and direct deposit options.
All taxpayers who received more than $33 in total gross taxable income in calendar year 2017 must file a Pennsylvania personal income tax return by midnight Tuesday, April 17. The deadline is extended this year due to Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington, D.C., observed on Monday, April 16, which pushes the federal and state filing deadlines to April 17.
Taxpayers can request an extension to file a personal income tax return by submitting form REV-276. The department automatically grants an extension to file when an extension is granted by the IRS.
As a reminder, an extension to file is not an extension to pay tax that is due. If you feel you will owe tax, you should send a payment for the amount of tax you expect to owe.
For more information on the Department of Revenue, visit www.revenue.pa.gov, or visit the department’s Facebook page.
of mortgage scams
Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week alerted consumers to mortgage modification scams taking place across Pennsylvania and announced restitution for consumer victims of Michael Rabel, an attorney who scammed consumers in western Pennsylvania
During the first three months of 2018, the Office of Attorney General has already received 15 complaints about modification scams, compared with 61 last year.
A mortgage modification involves obtaining a lower interest rate or extended payment terms on your loan.
A mortgage scam happens when a company fails to provide mortgage modification services to consumers after accepting payment or fails to issue refunds to consumers for modification services that were never delivered.
“If a Pennsylvania resident pays to have their mortgage modified, they deserve to receive that service or they are entitled to a full refund,” Shapiro said in a news release. “If you believe you’ve been victimized by a mortgage modification scam, I want you to file a complaint with my office. We’ll fight these scammers and stand up for your rights.”
One mortgage modification scammer is Rabel, a suspended Allegheny County attorney, who failed to provide mortgage modifications to consumers who paid him, Shapiro said. Seven consumers filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection about Rabel, and two consumers have already received restitution.
From 2006 through 2016, Rabel was licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and was the owner of Michael A. Rabel & Associates LLC.
Shapiro and his Bureau of Consumer Protection offered these tips to help people avoid being scammed by mortgage relief companies:
• Don’t pay fees upfront. Mortgage relief companies can’t collect any fees from you until they have obtained a written offer of mortgage relief from your lender. Consumers also have the right to reject the lender’s offer without any charge and consumers can stop doing business with the mortgage relief company at any time.
• Be suspicious of advertisements claiming an affiliation with the government or your mortgage lender. Mortgage relief companies are required to clearly communicate certain disclosures to consumers, including that the company is not associated with the government and its services are not approved or endorsed by the government or the consumer’s lender.
• Know you can continue to speak with your lender or servicer. Mortgage relief companies are prohibited from advising consumers to stop communicating with their lenders or servicers.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.