The impact of Covid-19 has caused the government to extend tax filing deadlines.

Due to the impact of Covid-19, governments at all levels are offering more flexibility in tax filings for 2019 taxes.

At the Federal Level:

  1. Any person with a federal income tax return or payment normally due on April 15, 2020, is eligible for relief. The payment due refers to both 2019 Federal income tax payments and 2020 estimated Federal income tax payments, regardless of the amount owed. The return or payment must be due on April 15, 2020 for tax year 2019.
  2. No extension is provided for any other type of Federal tax, or the filing of any Federal information return, or payments due on any other date.
  3. If you have not yet filed your 2019 income tax return that would have been due on April 15, you don’t need to file any additional forms or permission of the IRS to qualify for this automatic relief.
    If you expect a refund, you should file your return as soon as possible as there may be delays in processing refunds. The quickest way to receive your refund is to file electronically and request your refund as a direct deposit.
  4. The relief does not apply to estate and gift taxes and return deadlines.
  5. If you need to file an extension, because you would not be able to file by April 15, 2020 or July 15, 2020 for tax year 2019, you may file an automatic extension via IRS Form 4868.
  6. If you intend to file an extension, the tax still must be paid by July 15, 2020 or interest and penalties will accrue. You must request the automatic extension by July 15, 2020.
    The deadline for first quarter 2020 estimated income tax payments due on April 15, 2020 is postponed to July 15, 2020.
  7. The second quarter 2020 estimated income tax payments are still due on June 15, 2020.

For Pennsylvania:

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has elected to follow the IRS with the above listed extensions applying to the Pennsylvania income tax returns for individuals.

For Philadelphia and localities:

  1. Each county and locality have different taxes and deadlines.
  2. For Philadelphia:
    1. Real Estate Tax due date extension to April 30, 2020; but this not appear to apply to the early pay discount.
    2. Business Income & Receipts Tax and Net Profits Tax filing and payment extensions – The City will follow the IRS and extent filing and payments to July 15, 2020 for payments and returns due April 15, 2020 for tax year 2019. This policy includes estimated payments. No action is required from businesses to take advantage of this extension policy in Philadelphia.

Please be sure to contact my office to help you with all of your tax needs and ensure you remain compliant with the law during this ever changing time.

Thanks to Adam S. Bernick, Esquire for his assistance in drafting this post.


Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire is the founder and managing attorney of the Law office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. in Philadelphia, PA. Her office can help people from both Pennsylvania and New Jersey with their tax issues. Her office is located at 2047 Locust Street in a historic Philadelphia brownstone. She can be reached at 215-563-7776 or at

Is E-Commerce Killing Brick-and-Mortar Retail?

If you work for any large retail chain, it is recommended that you talk to an employment lawyer so that you are prepared for and insulated from the risks of layoff, termination and/or transfer as much as possible.

In 2018, 5,800 stores closed nationwide. In 2019 more than 9,000 stores closed nationwide. This is a staggering increase, and according to some research analysts 2020 may be the grimmest year yet for chain stores and mainstay retailers. The major retailers who have announced plans to close stores in 2020 and beyond are:

  • AC Moore, closing all 145 of its stores
  • Bose, closing 119 stores, all of their North American stores, plus others in Europe, Japan and Australia
  • Pier 1 Imports, closing 450, or one-half of their stores; following 70 stores closed in 2019
  • Chicos, closing 250 stores through 2022
  • Gap, closing 230 stores, one-half in 2020
  • Sears – – the 130+ year old company, once the largest retailer in the country, and a key player as a tenant in the rise of shopping stores is dying a slow death – – is closing an additional 51 stores in 2020
  • Bed Bath and Beyond, closing up to 60 stores in 2020
  • Office Depot (also the owner of Office Max), closing up to 90 stores by 2021 and closed 55 stores in 2019. Its stock price dropped from a high of $44 a share to $2.50 a share in 2019
  • K Mart, closing 45 stores in 2020

All major chain stores and mainstay retailers are rethinking the entire idea of having brick-and-mortar locations – – deciding whether to downsize the stores they will retain, repurpose the use of and services provided in their stores, determining how to best accommodate their customers’ changing needs and shopping behaviors, or partner with existing large e-commerce websites. These trends predicted for 2020 and future years need to be taken seriously.


Faye Riva Cohen is the founder and managing attorney of The Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. in Philadelphia. She represents residents of PA and NJ who are involved in employment-related disputes with their employers. She can be reached at 215-563-7776 or at


Coronavirus (Covid-19) will likely create a perfect storm for older workers. Not only are they at a greater risk for contracting the virus, but their retirement plans may be put on hold due to what most certainly will be a drop in the value of their investments, and the necessity of using funds set aside for retirement to sustain themselves if the country enters a recession.

Despite the doom and gloom of these predictions, there is one bright spot. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed bill H.R. 1230, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA). The bill awaits passage by the Senate, but it encouragingly received bipartisan support in the House.

In 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, 557 U.S. 167 (2009), that made it much more difficult for people who face age discrimination in the workplace to successfully challenge such bias in court. The Gross decision required employees to prove that their age was the “decisive factor” in an employment decision. This is in contrast to the standard that is used in other types of discrimination, which requires employees to prove that their protected characteristic – such as race or gender – was merely part of an employer’s “mixed motive” in making an employment decision.

This “decisive factor” standard, which is also called the “but-for” standard, is much more difficult to prove as compared to the “mixed motive” standard. As a result, despite an increase in age discrimination complaints filed with government agencies, fewer age discrimination cases are actually filed in court, and fewer still are actually won by the plaintiffs. The passage of POWADA would restore the “mixed motive” standard and would make it easier for employees to win age discrimination cases.

What difference does it make to our economy if age discrimination against older workers is minimized? Here are some interesting statistics about older workers:

  • Older workers make vital contributions to society and to their workplaces, and their numbers are growing. 41 million workers will be age 55 or older in 2024, and will occupy a larger share of the nation’s workforce.
  • As people live longer and healthier lives, a multigenerational workforce is becoming the norm. There are 117 million people 50 and older in the U.S., and the number of workers age 50-plus has increased 80 percent over the past 20 years.
  • Workplace age discrimination has a negative impact on the entire economy. The U.S. economy missed out of $850 billion in economic activity in 2018 dues to biases against older workers. An AARP study divided the loss into 57% based on involuntary retirement, 27% based on underemployment, and 15% based on unemployment. This amount could reach $3.9 trillion in 2050. In 2018 age discrimination may have cost the U.S. 8.6 million jobs and $545 billion in lost wages and salaries.

The passage of POWADA would challenge workplace policies that discriminate against older workers and ensure that society continues to benefit from the wealth of experiences and perspectives offered by businesses that employ older workers. And, productive older workers will continue to have the resources available to consume products and services, pay taxes and be contributing members of society.

We all win as a society when that happens.


If you think you have been discriminated against due to your age (gender, race, religion, national origin, disability) talking to a knowledgeable lawyer can bring clarity to the situation and determine whether you’re entitle to restitution. Faye Riva Cohen is the founder and managing attorney of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. in Philadelphia, PA. She represents residents of PA and NJ who are involved in employment-related disputes with their employers. Her office is located in Philadelphia, PA. She can be reached at 215-563-7776 or at

You can find this post here on Linkedin as well.

Tips for Working with the Coronavirus

Covid-19 will be a serious wake-up call for every worker, whether they work for large businesses and institutions or small businesses, and whether they are independent contractors and/or gig economy workers.

  • Employees of Large Companies and Institutions— currently it is unclear how long employees who are being asked to work from home can sustain their jobs. Being permitted to work from home is a band aid solution to a huge problem. A limited number of jobs lend themselves to working from home, and the ability to work from home usually depends on access to specific technology and data maintained and updated by others in a central location. If Covid-19 restrictions continue, businesses will be affected and layoffs and terminations will result.
  • Small Businesses—Although federal and state governments may be able to provide some aid for small businesses, the aid being discussed is are temporary tax relief measures or loans that require repayment. This aid presumes that businesses will continue to operate. Small business are generally fragile and do not sit on large cash reserves, unlike many large companies, who have greater benefitted from the bull economy. W-2 and 1099 workers for small businesses may see their hours reduced, or they may be terminated.
  • Independent Contractors and Gig Economy Workers—It is unlikely that government measures will assist workers who have several part-time jobs, and are not eligible to receive unemployment compensation and other benefits being discussed as assistance. These workers run the greatest risk in crises situations, and the Covid-19 pandemic will likely cause them to rethink their goals and career paths.

If these scenarios (or issues) look familiar to you, it may be time to talk to a lawyer. An employment lawyer can help you identify what’s happening—and decide what to do about it.


Attorney Faye Riva Cohen has 46 years of experience in labor and employment law. Please contact her for advice and guidance. She can help you navigate the dangerous shoals of our economy created by Covid-19.  Her office is located at 2047 Locust Street in a historic Philadelphia brownstone. She can be reached at 215-563-7776 or at

(Also posted to linkedin here).

Layoffs and Mergers and Consolidations and Acquisitions…OH MY!

In recent months, businesses and institutions in the Philadelphia area have experienced a number of closures, mergers, consolidations and acquisitions which will be devastating to the greater geographic area, and have or will result in major layoffs of skilled employees and elimination of future jobs.

Here are just a few examples:

  • The owner of Hahnemann University Hospital, in existence for 171 years, announced that it would be declaring bankruptcy and closing;
  • Drexel University, announced that about 40 percent of its physicians and clinical staff of its medical college will lose their jobs in the wake of the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital;
  • Philadelphia Energy Solutions announced that it was closing its South Philadelphia oil refinery due to a series of explosions and a catastrophic fire, and laying off more than 1,000 employees;
  • WSFS Financial Corporation acquired Beneficial Bank, founded in 1853, with 58 locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and is rebranding as WSFS Bank.

It is no wonder that employees are justified in feeling insecure. Mere months after the good economic news that the unemployment rate has dropped significantly, and that employees now have their choice of jobs, salaries and benefits, comes news of major layoffs, mergers, consolidations, acquisitions and business failures.

In addition to the economic impact of such upsetting news, there is the devastating personal impact on the lives of employees and their families, which may result in the permanent loss of long-term jobs and careers, having to accept lower income jobs or shift into gig-economy jobs, or being required to leave the area or downsize their lifestyles.

Having represented thousands of employees throughout my career, the following are my recommendations to employees in order to protect themselves in view of major layoffs or terminations, as no one is indispensable in our current marketplace.

  • Employers prefer it when their workforce is collegial, respectful of each other and aligned behind their company culture, vision and/or mission. While employers may have “open door policies,” workplace policies outlined in handbooks or online, social media policies, and staff human resource departments, I suggest that employees think long and hard about making a complaint and what they hope to accomplish by making the complaint. Complaints about co-workers, getting involved in co-workers’ issues which are not directly related to the employee making the complaint, or disagreeing with managers and supervisors, can often set off an investigatory process, and that process can boomerang, at the expense of the complaining party.
  • The employees making these complaints generally have the burden of proving them, and that often means hiring a lawyer to assist with presenting these complaints. The complaints also mean that the employer must spend time and resources investigating the complaint, and they risk making a decision that may adversely affect them in the long run. The person who is making the complaint and the person complained about have equal rights, so if the person complained about is disciplined or terminated, that person may allege the employer acted wrongfully and the employer will have to defend themselves, costing them more time and money.
  • An employee should consult a lawyer if they are going to need extended Family Medical Leave Act time or they wish to make a claim for short term disability, long term disability, or workers’ compensation. These leave requests and policies are difficult to navigate and often conflict with each other. They can also result in terminations if they are not handled correctly and the specific legal and company requirements to make these leave claims are not followed. Also, employees have to be mindful that recommendations from their doctors do not necessarily control their employers. Employers are not required to provide indefinite leave, or hold an employee’s job open, simply because a doctor does not release an employee to return to work.
  • A lawyer should be consulted as soon as an employee has been given a performance improvement plan (“PIP”). Few employees survive PIPS and being given a PIP is often a good clue that an employer is seeking to find a reason to terminate an employee. It is important that a PIP is followed by the employer, but even an employee’s best efforts to meet the terms of the PIP may not result in keeping their job. A PIP is also a good opportunity for an attorney to attempt to negotiate a severance package for an employee, as an employer may be interested in offering such a package if the employee voluntarily agrees to leave.
  • If an employee belongs to a union it is still a good idea to consult an independent lawyer. An employee rarely interacts with a union lawyer except for a short time at some later point in a legal process, and that point may be far down the road from when a lawyer should have been consulted. Union lawyers also represent their union, and may have conflicts in trying to divide their representation among a number of union members who  have similar issues. Also, not every union represents its members for discrimination complaints and disability issues, so it is important that employees make certain that they meet the often stringent filing requirements involved in these matters.

If an employee has doubts about what is happening in their workplace or with their position, or they have received a performance improvement plan, they should consult a lawyer and not wait until they have been disciplined or terminated.  Talking to a knowledgeable employment lawyer can bring clarity to the situation and assist them in how to address their problems with the least risk to themselves.

Originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on October 28, 2019 and can be found here.

No Employee is Indispensable

One of the character traits of lawyers is that because we often see the negative side of life as we tend to observe matters in a pessimistic manner equivalent to viewing a glass half empty versus a glass half full. On the other hand, clients often view matters in an overly optimistic manner, which is often not based in reality.

For example, in our employment law practice, we often encounter clients who have been terminated from their jobs, often causing them surprise and shock. This surprise and shock is caused because they felt they were indispensable to their employer.

If I have learned one thing during the course of my legal career in the labor, employment, and civil rights fields, it is that no one is indispensable to their employer. Pennsylvania is an employee-at-will state, and although employees sometimes have recourse to appeal, contest, or complain about their termination, this is often a lengthy and costly process, if done correctly. Attorneys are often able to expand severance packages which employees have been offered, but a severance package often does not replace one’s job, or the loss of self-esteem which an employee often experiences as a result of being selected for a layoff or a termination.

Therefore, I offer some suggestions from a legal perspective about what one should or should not be doing as an employee.

  • Although many employers advertise that they have an “open door policy” and state that they welcome ideas and suggestions, and they want to hear about problems you are having with other staff or supervisors, I recommend that employees should be very careful about stepping through that door, and if an employee decides to step through that door, be very careful about what one says. Many employers do not want to learn about their employee’s opinions, and especially do not want to hear complaints about other staff. Among the clients I encounter, the employee who files the complaint against the “evil” supervisor, is usually the person who is terminated.
  • Do not assume that because you are a long-term employee (and I mean even upwards of 25 years) , that your efforts have earned the company a lot of money, or that your efforts have saved the company a lot of money, that your employer will not lay you off, eliminate your position, or dismiss you. Unfortunately, the days of guaranteed long-term employment ended many years ago, and do not appear to be returning.
  • What is the difference between insubordination and disagreeing with your supervisor or manager? The difference is solely in the opinion of the employer. Employers do not appreciate being told that you do not agree with their opinions, do not agree with other staff they work with or supervise, and do not appreciate hearing that you are not going to do things the way they have asked you to do them because you do not agree that is the way they should be done. Let me repeat: no one is indispensable, and you can find yourself terminated because you have voiced your disagreement.
  • Although most employers have policies regarding sexual harassment and hostile work environment, and urge reports of same, they are rarely pleased to hear these complaints. This is usually because they feel they must spend time and resources investigating the complaint, and they risk making a decision which will come back to bite them in the long-run. Remember that the person complaining about this behavior, and the person who is complained about, have equal rights, so if the person complained about is disciplined or terminated, that person may allege that said action was undertaken wrongfully by the employer, and the employer will have to defend themselves, costing them more time and money.
  • Do not assume that human resources professionals are on your side. From my many years of experience, the vast majority of the professionals I have dealt with are concerned about their own jobs first, and your job second. They try to balance making it appear as if they are “investigating” your issues, while at the same time trying not to offend the employer by spending time and resources on your matter.
  • I wish I had a dollar for every time an employee client tells me that their employer can’t do something “because it is illegal”. First, although there may be laws against engaging in certain types of activities, generally the enforcement of those laws is up to the individual employee’s attorney, as government agencies don’t always have the time, money, staff, knowledge or inclination to handle matters, and if they do handle matters, it may take years to do so. Second, people often misinterpret the law. Each case is based on an independent fact pattern and is subject to many vagaries, so what someone reads on the Internet often does not apply to the facts of their case, or may depend on the laws of different states than the relevant one.

In conclusion, and continuing on with viewing employment matters as a glass half empty, my advice to all employees is to tread very carefully in their positions, because they are not indispensable to their employers: remember, length of service makes no difference if the employer decides to eliminate your job for some reason, do not rely on human resources representatives to be of valuable assistance, and consult a lawyer when you feel there is something inappropriate or peculiar happening in your workplace. It is preferable to consult a lawyer if you have doubts about what is happening in your workplace, and your position, than wait until you have been disciplined or terminated.

Put a Little Love in Your Heart

As Jackie DeShannon sings in her song, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart:”

Think of your fellow man,
lend him a helping hand
put a little love in your heart…

We are living in cruel times. Human kindness, decency, and regard for others seem to be on the wane. Obviously, during the history of mankind, boorish behavior has existed and may even have been the norm, but one would hope that at this point in the human journey we would have learned to “play nice.”

Recent incidents involving children make one wonder whether families are taking the time to instruct children on the basic niceties of human behavior. I grew up in Minnesota, not the fictional Lake Wobegon of Garrison Keillor’s imagination, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average,” but Minnesota “nice” just the same. Not only did parents instruct and discipline their children, but neighbors knew each other, and they all assumed responsibility for making certain that all children behaved properly. In fact, the entire community, really everyone we encountered- school teachers and staff, shopkeepers, extracurricular organizations’ staff, the police- kept an eye on children. It was not unusual for parents to receive a call from any of the above to ask if they knew that their child was out late or engaging in inappropriate behavior. I can tell you that when my parents received a call like that, it resulted in some type of punishment for my brothers and me.

Whoo boy! Have things ever changed, and for the worse. I will give you three examples:

First, a recent news story featured a mother and father who appeared at their son’s elementary school, sadly and coincidentally, on a day designated as “Family Fun Day,” to take him out of school early. The mother refused to abide by school protocol, which required that she go to the school’s office to present identification before she left with her son. The protocol was instituted to prevent unauthorized people from leaving with children. Instead of following protocol, the mother insisted on removing her son from the playground. When the principal and vice principal tried to stop her, the mother assaulted them, and the father later joined in. The mother has been charged with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, criminal trespass, simple assault, reckless endangerment of another person, disorderly conduct, and harassment. At the time the news story was published, the father, who ran away, was still being sought by authorities.

Second, a student and her family sued the Philadelphia School District for failing to stop the student from being bullied over her gender-nonconforming presentation (the judge described it as not conforming to “societal expectations for girls in terms of appearance and dress…”). The judge awarded them $500,000, under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act’s prohibition of sex discrimination, in a unique application of that Act to student-on-student bullying. The girl attended three respective public schools, but the bullying persisted. She developed serious psychological problems, which led to the financial award.

Third, something happened to me recently. A boy of about 12 was walking down the street screaming at the top of his lungs, while I was trying to make a telephone call. I suggested to him that said behavior was not appropriate, as it disturbed other pedestrians. His mother started screaming at me, telling me I had no right to tell her son what to do. She became more enraged by the moment, made some personally insulting remarks to me, and then said she was going to spit on me, which she did, after her group circled me, yelling. Although several people viewed this interaction, when I asked if they had seen what happened, they all shifted their eyes to the ground. The mother’s actions do not portend well for her son. In too many situations these days, people are afraid to step forward and do the right thing, for fear of being criticized or even harmed. When I relayed this incident to others it was suggested that I had no business correcting the boy’s boorish behavior, and it is best to mind my own business. But, that is not how I was raised, and I fear for our society if the rules have changed so that anyone can do whatever they want, anytime they want, wherever they want as others cower in fear.

Let’s all put a little love in our hearts and think of our fellow man, and the world may be a better place for you and me.

What is the True Value of a Lawyer

It is my professional responsibility as a lawyer to keep current with legal developments and how they relate to politics, and local, state and national news. This is a time-consuming process. Lawyers have to constantly learn, study, and analyze; their education is never-ending. A recent article quoting Wayne Hassey, Esquire, the managing partner of Maguire Schneider Hassey in Ohio, drew my attention. He is a fan of technology in the law, and he notes that although lawyers formerly formed a closed society, and only they had access to locating, analyzing and interpreting the law, due to the Internet, soon law will be a completely open source, and the public can educate itself.

Mr. Hassey is of the opinion that as everyone can now self-educate themselves about the law, the true value of a lawyer is “trust, advocacy, judgment and duty”. Silly me… I thought those concepts already contributed to the true value of a lawyer. And, many days lawyers question if they have any value, but that is usually after watching lawyers slogging away at each other on political programs, and being pummeled by “news” commentators.

Of course, most lawyers already encounter clients or potential clients self-educating with “Internet law,” and lawyers are not happy with that practice. Just because one reads about the law does not mean that one automatically acquires the legal skills necessary to traverse the increasingly complex legal system, and does not mean that the things one reads about actually apply to one’s situation. In fact, many lawyers are of the opinion that the general public has been harmed by its vague knowledge of the law.  As a result, deadlines are not recognized and often missed, frivolous and superfluous motions are filed, and outrageous financial demands with no relationship to actual losses suffered are made. Therefore the old adage that a lawyer who represents him/herself has a fool for a client has now been expanded to the general public.

Although law is a historic profession, like much of society it is undergoing change, stress and turmoil, and the days when law was considered a stable and rigid profession are certainly gone. It appears that the legal field will experience turbulent times ahead. The large national and international law firms are continuing to invade each other and poach other lawyers, offer teams of lawyers some incentive to leave their current firms, or simply absorb or merge with other firms. Not only are lawyers leaving firms, but the managing partners of law firms are changing firms late in their careers, as are lawyers who have practiced with their original firms for a quarter of a century.

So I say to those Internet “lawyers” who have self-represented and been caught in the extremely complex wheels of the law, I trust that you have learned that the true value of a lawyer is having the advantage of relying on someone who guides you through the complexities of the ever-changing and highly complex laws which control your matter. So when lawyers themselves are experiencing turbulence in the legal field, relying on the Internet for information on how to practice law is not something a layperson should undertake.

A Lifeline for the Disabled

Although Anthony T. Hincks stated “the only disability that I have, is that I’m human”, that is not true for many people. Although I wish my readers long and healthy lives, many people find themselves at some point in their lives, through no fault of their own, partially or fully medically disabled. I beg you, as well as your family, friends, colleagues and clients, to seek the help of a lawyer when you are applying for long-term (and in some cases short-term) disability benefits, requesting leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, requesting accommodations pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or applying for Social Security disability benefits.

One should not assume that just because they have successfully completed the first level of any of the above application processes, that one is home free. The application process is just the tip of a much larger iceberg that lies below the surface, and, if not handled correctly, can have significant collateral consequences such as undermining a future benefits claim or resulting in the loss of one’s job.

The process involved in applying for disability benefits of any sort does not simply involve bringing in a letter from one’s doctor. While this may have sufficed in the “good old days,” the current process is fraught with deadlines, specific requirements, complicated forms, and other landmines that can blow up one’s disability claim. Additionally, if someone is applying for medical leave or disability, it means that they are not functioning at the top of their form and not feeling 100% well. They are often in pain, or suffering from the side effects of medication, which can include fatigue, memory loss, confusion, frustration, depression, and anxiety.  Many people become so upset trying to comply with the requirements of their workplace’s human resources staff, or the staff of a disability carrier, when applying for benefits, that they become frustrated and give-up, or make errors which could impact their ability to receive or continue to receive benefits in the future.

Additionally, there is frequently a lack of communication between the employee, employer, insurance carrier, or the third-party intermediary which handles disability, or leave claims for the employer.   The employee may assume that the employer is aware of their medical condition because they have provided their medical information to a third-party carrier or intermediary. Or, often the employer has assigned the medical leave and benefits process to one or more third parties for the purpose of removing themselves from the process in order to preserve the privacy of their employees, or to prevent supervisory staff from becoming biased against a disabled employee. This enforced lack of communication can lead to situations where the employee and the employer are like ships passing in the night. Both parties may mean well and believe they are properly handling the situation, yet they never connect. This can lead to an employee being terminated in spite of a disability because the employer does not have the full understanding of their situation, and an employee feeling they were terminated inappropriately or in violation of a law, despite their employer being fully aware of their situation, or so they thought.

Further, doctors do not control employers. This is news to many employees who believe that simply because their employers ask for their doctor’s input, that the employer is legally obligated to listen to the doctor’s recommendations. That is not correct. The law requires a certain level of cooperation from employers, but employers are generally free to control their workforce.  Many employees have lost their jobs because their doctors have asked that they be permitted to be out on leave beyond the time permitted by the law, or have recommended that the employee be permitted to return to work part-time, when that is not an option in their workplace or job, or have stated that the employee should be placed in a different job, when that is not probable, possible, or required of an employer. Employers are generally not required to adhere to the above suggestions. Each workplace has different rules, restrictions, policies and procedures, or even collective-bargaining agreement language to consider. These must be considered alongside local, state, and federal laws.

By way of example, we had an unfortunate client who was permitted to take FMLA leave for a mental health condition. During that leave she required back surgery, which kept her out of work for three additional months. The employer regularly asked her for medical updates, and at some point inquired of her doctor when she could return to work. The doctor gave an estimate of a return to work date, but after that date passed, and hearing no further from the doctor or our client, her employer terminated her because of her lack of communication. The client alleged that she did not have to provide a follow-up to her employer because her doctor had not yet cleared her to return to work. The employee thereafter had an option of applying for medical disability retirement, as she was a federal employee, but she did not apply in a timely fashion as she felt she should be permitted to return to her original position. By the time her appeal process ended, she had missed her filing deadline for disability, and the employer chose not to return her to her employment.

The Law Will Hunt You Down

Each year my Firm receives hundreds of telephone calls from people and company owners who are seeking advice or representation for their legal issues, and our lawyers spend considerable time discussing their issues and legal options with them. Yet many of those telephone calls end with the callers simply fading away, or deciding to postpone action for another day. My questions to them are “where do you think you can go where the law will not find you?” or “how is something going to happen if you don’t take some action?”

Perhaps it is human nature to procrastinate, but it is mindboggling to me that people do not undertake the legal action they should be taking in a timely fashion to protect themselves and their families from future problems.  Some examples follow of my experiences:

Real Estate: 

Husband and wife divorced 10 years ago. Wife could not afford a lawyer so there was not a property settlement agreement negotiated or determined by a judge. The property was purchased while the parties were married, but the deed is only in Husband’s name. Wife wants to know what she can do about placing the property in joint names with Husband, or forcing a sale of the property so she can claim a share. When I advised Wife what she can do and what she should do, her response was “okay,” and that was it!


A caller’s father, who was a widower, died 10 years ago without a will. The father’s children, including the caller, agreed that one of them could administer the father’s estate, which included real estate. The agreed-upon administrator permitted her son to live in the father’s house rent-free for 10 years, and the other siblings have never received any distribution from the estate. The caller doesn’t think anyone is or has paid real estate taxes for some time because she thinks the house is up for sheriff’s sale. When I told her what she had to do she said she would talk to her siblings, I didn’t hear from her again, and that was it!


A caller called to say that her bank account had been frozen. There are only a couple ways in which this can happen. In the private sector in order to execute on a bank account one must have a valid judgment. A valid judgment occurs when one is sued in a court and either did not defend, defended but lost the case and did not appeal, or was not properly served and did not know about the lawsuit. The response to my questions from callers with similar problems is invariably one of the following:

  • I could not afford an attorney and did not defend the lawsuit.
  • I don’t remember ever receiving notice of the lawsuit.
  • I didn’t know they can take funds from my bank account or take my personal possessions.

When a judgment has been taken we would have to investigate if the judgment was appropriately taken or if service of the underlying lawsuit was proper. If we notice a problem we try to open the judgment, which must be agreed to by a judge. Thereafter the case may have to be retried or settled by negotiation. A judgment does not disappear until many years have passed via state statute, or it is marked satisfied by the party bringing the lawsuit.

Sometimes people have paid the judgment but did not request or know that the judgment must be marked satisfied, and it may remain on their record or credit score, or impact their ability to sell real estate in the future.


A caller asked what he needs to do to become a legal landlord in Philadelphia. I discussed licensing and lease language with him, and the pros and cons of operating as a corporation, as well as the tax ramifications. He did not even want to spend a small amount to learn the legalities of his future business. If this man does something inappropriately, and runs afoul of the city or taxing authorities, which will likely happen as he is not interested in learning the correct way to operate, it will cost him thousands of dollars to remedy the situation.

 Traffic Tickets:

Traffic tickets for moving violations or parking tickets do not disappear. Many years down the road, even after someone has moved to another state, they often find that their license has been suspended because of tickets they have ignored, or in some cases, tickets which have been accrued by others to whom they have loaned their cars or to whom they did not legally transfer title. Many states have reciprocal agreements with each other and will honor action taken to suspend a driver’s license due to tickets in a different state.

The law is a living breathing system. It will not go away just because one closes their eyes or tries to ignore it. Ignoring that one has been sued – or failing to take action in a timely manner within the statutory deadlines required under the law – will only come back to haunt one at a later date.

Buyer Beware

The general public does not seem to be aware that purchase, transfer, ownership and/or sale of real estate are often fraught with problems which are created by people taking legal shortcuts or failing to conduct due diligence, which means investigation and assessment into the quality and validity of the purchase, transfer, ownership and/or sale of real estate. As a result, many people find themselves in real estate situations which are confusing, expensive, and, often, regrettable. This doesn’t have to be the case if certain steps are taken. As the axiom goes — “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The buyer alone bears responsibility for due diligence.    So, buyer be beware of:

Purchase, Title or Transfer Issues:

 Buyer Beware #1: Do NOT transfer title to a property into your name or into the name of an entity controlled by you without having an insured title search conducted by a reputable title company,  and an insured title report provided to  you as the prospective buyer.  Liens and judgments, even in the names of prior owners, or even in incorrect names, can attach themselves to the property, and once the title has been transferred to a new buyer/owner, they become the obligation of the new owner.  Any liens, judgments or issues which are attached to the property must be cleared prior to purchase of the property, and the method of payment and computation of amount due are at the discretion of the lienholder.,  If an agreement cannot be reached regarding liens, judgements or issues prior to purchase, settlement needs to be delayed until  agreements are reached, or an action may be required in court to clear title.  A court action in some counties must proceed  through an entire trial, even if the matter is unopposed, which can cost thousands of dollars.  If proper title insurance and clear title cannot  be provided, if the next buyer/owner does seek a title report, title may often not be able to be legally transferred due to some prior legal problem.  People often say they KNOW that the title is clear because their relative or friend told them so, or paid their bills on time, but that is not sufficient.

Buyer Beware #2: A power of attorney in Pennsylvania may require specific language in order to transfer a house or other parcel of land, condo or co-op shares, so it is a good idea to consult an attorney to determine if the power of attorney one wants to use  is valid or has the current language required under the law.   These concerns extend not just to description of an asset being transferred, but who is to receive the transfer, since if it is a gift, specific language is required.  As the law regarding durable powers of attorney has changed over the last few years, any power of attorney should be reviewed and updated to take into account current laws.

Deed Issues:

Buyer Beware #1: Do not assume that a deed which is maintained at home or in a safety deposit box, or even filed with a government office, is the most recent deed on file.  Fraud or forgery may have occurred, especially in Philadelphia, or numerous and conflicting deeds may be on file, or could have been executed before death and then filed post death.  A government office will usually file any document and does not check its legitimacy or have the legal responsibility to do so.  That is the reason that a formal title search is required.

Title or Title Insurance Issues:

Buyer Beware #1: When you buy or transfer a property, purchase formal title insurance to insure the search and transfer. Although a lender requires such insurance, in private sales or other instances title insurance is not required, but should still be purchased to protect the new buyer/owner. A reputable title company will represent you if litigation arises, and will take the time to solve any title or escrow issues that may arise. A reputable title insurance company may also agree to resolve or waive some issues regarding satisfaction of prior debts or liens, judgments or debts which are not legitimately on the report.

Real Estate Tax Issues:

Buyer Beware #1: DO NOT pay real estate taxes, or make an agreement to pay real estate taxes with a local government authority or its agent without first determining if you are the legal owner of the property. These entities will accept tax payments or make agreements with anyone, and they do not determine who is the legal owner of the property, and can’t be relied upon to protect your interest. People often assume that because they have been left the house via a will or inherit the property by law, they can transfer the title into their name without undertaking the required probate process. That is not correct. We have also encountered people who are paying taxes on property foreclosed upon by mortgage lenders or which has been sold at sheriff’s sale, and is no longer their property or their family’s property.

Inheritance Issues:

Buyer Beware #1: Just because you took care of an owner of the house does not automatically entitle you to more of a share of the house than any other heirs, when that owner dies.  A family member is presumed to provide services out of love and affection and not for compensation absent an explicit written agreement addressing the scope of services and method of compensation.

Buyer Beware #2: Just because your name or one or both of your parent’s names are on a deed, does not mean that you automatically inherit the property as there may be faulty language in the deed stating that the parties are tenants in common and not joint tenants with the right of survivorship.  If the deed language states “tenants in common” the deceased’s owners share passes to their estate and not to the other named person/people on the deed. Also, if one or more of the parties’ names in a deed are incapacitated or deceased, etc., a new deed cannot automatically be drafted.  Similarly, if the deed was owned as a husband and wife, and there was a divorce, but there is no agreement or order dividing the property, it is automatically owned by each ex-spouse 50/50 and each 50% share passes to the respective spouse’s estate.   This may create complex inheritance issues, so even if divorce counsel was retained for the divorce, an estate planning and real estate attorney should review the situation.

Buyer Beware #3: Inheritance tax may be due on a property that one inherits, if it bears a Pennsylvania address.  Non-payment or late payment of inheritance tax can lead to interest and penalties, tax liens, and possible action by the Department of Revenue in removing the administrator/executor of the estate and other actions, and the inability to sell or transfer a property at a later date if the inheritance tax is not paid. Inheritance tax is different from other types of taxes, and people sometimes confuse them. Inheritance tax can also have deductions taken against the amount owed, and the amount owed may depend on a different property value than originally assumed, so it is a good idea to consult an attorney before paying inheritance tax.

Buyer Beware #4:  If a deceased real estate owner  was in a nursing home or received care at home paid for by a grant from the Department of Human Services under Medical Assistance or Medicaid, before his/her death, the property  would likely have to be sold to reimburse the state for some payment, with some exceptions. An attorney should be consulted prior to signing any documents with a government entity for care of a relative or friend.

Buyer Beware #5: If you decide not to open an estate and just live in a house which you believe is yours, problems may arise with:

  • Inheritance tax still being due and, if not paid, accruing interest and penalties or possible action by the Department of Revenue.
  • An heir does not have the right to live in a house rent free for more than the first 6 months of someone’s death, which is subject to court review and changes in case law.
  • Any improvements or repairs to the property may be considered gifts to co-heirs although they aren’t residing or supporting or improving the property.
  • If more than 21 years pass and an estate must be opened, court approval is required.
  • If one of the heirs of a house owner dies after the house owner dies, an estate needs to be opened for the deceased heir as well as the deceased house owner.

So, buyer beware.  It is highly recommended that an ounce of prevention be taken by consulting an attorney.

The Dirty Secrets of Sexual Harassment: A Behind-the-Scenes Perspective

The topic of sexual harassment has been trending in the news, prompted by the revelations made against Harvey Weinstein and many other men by women who allege harassment by these men, some of these allegations occurring many years ago. There are conflicting opinions as to whether and how to report sexual harassment, what the likely outcome of said reporting will be for the accuser, and even what is interpreted as sexual harassment by women of various ages. For example, in October, 2017, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an interview with a seasoned lawyer about her experiences in handling sexual harassment cases. Although her responses appeared a little blunt, they resonated and affirmed not only my experiences but, indeed, the experiences of any seasoned employment lawyer in handling such cases.

The interview unleashed a barrage of vitriolic criticism attacking the lawyer, with many people expressing dismay at her advice and conclusions, and some even calling her views dangerous. Therefore I have decided to examine some of the lawyer’s comments and compare them to the reality of pursuing a sexual harassment claim.

Is it a bad idea to complain about sexual harassment in the workplace?

That depends on the workplace and whose responsibility it is to handle the complaint. The law generally requires an employer to investigate a sexual harassment complaint and remedy it if the complaint is substantiated. The investigation is under the sole control of the employer. In an investigation, the accuser and the accused start off on an equal footing, and quite often the accused is someone’s supervisor. That supervisor is often in their position because the company’s higher-ups see something to admire and promote in the supervisor. Frequently, this perception already skews the investigation.  An employer can conduct an investigation (or say they did) without providing the accuser with information about how that investigation was conducted, and who was interviewed. The accuser is never present for the interviews, and often the people the accuser suggests be interviewed are not.

Even if the employer decides to remedy a complaint, that remedy usually does not involve terminating the accused harasser. It may involve training, or moving the accused or the accuser to another position or department or location. When the accuser is moved to a new position, they face the risk of retaliation, as most companies no longer want the accuser as an employee because they are concerned that the accuser will accuse another supervisor.  Often the new supervisor of the accuser, of either sex, is leery of the accuser, who is often labeled as a complainer and not a team player. Even worse, if the employer finds the accuser’s allegations not to be substantiated, which is possible as often there are no witnesses of the harassment, the accuser is considered to be untrustworthy.

The lesson to be learned is if you are going to complain about sexual harassment you need to be aware that said complaint may cost you your job. If you don’t care about losing your job, or if you plan to leave anyway, that is fine. But if you leave there probably won’t be an investigation, so the accused can then go on to harass other people. Even if there is an investigation, it will be private, as will any remedy. Consequently, others won’t learn about your efforts and the remedy won’t necessarily have a deterrent effect on the accused.

Is Human Resources Your Friend?

“Human Resources (“HR”) is not your friend,” the lawyer stated in the article. This is true, with few exceptions. HR employees are paid by the employer and their job is to protect the employer. It is human nature for people to not bite the hand that feeds them. It is HR’s decision as to whether they want to conduct an investigation of a complaint, who will conduct the investigation, and what the remedy will be. An HR employee may start out as sympathetic, but over time, chronic complaints will often turn HR against the complainer.

Are the Client’s Goals Realistic?

The lawyer’s final comment was that she only accepts clients with realistic goals, such as seeking a fair financial settlement, as the law doesn’t deliver “justice” or “vengeance.” Those who disagreed with this assessment argued that financial settlements will allow complaints to be swept under the rug and will allow other women to continue to be harassed.

Although clients often say they want their day in court, the reality is that to pursue a sexual harassment complaint to litigation is financially costly. Litigation routinely can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and continue for years. Even if an attorney agrees to accept the case on a contingency fee basis, the costs are often very substantial, and someone, normally the accuser, has to pay the costs.  Also, there is the possibility that the accuser, if she loses her case, will have to pay the opposing party’s costs. The end result may not really impact the harasser, as the employer or the insurance carrier will bear the brunt of an award of the accuser prevails in her case. In some cases the accuser has been sued by the accused for damages, and having to defend such a lawsuit can also be costly, and may result in an award of damages.

Additionally, the components of a sexual harassment complaint are often more emotionally devastating than allegations of other types of discrimination. If the case proceeds to litigation the accuser must expose her life and personal history to examination, which is embarrassing and may result in victim shaming.

Some of the lawyer’s critics pointed out that government agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), exist for the purpose of filing, investigating, and remedying sexual harassment complaints via sanctions and the imposition of huge monetary damages. That is not the reality of how these agencies handle these complaints. The EEOC prefers big impact cases. If one examines their settlement history, their settlement numbers for individual cases are not impressive.

Agencies are often understaffed and underfunded, and investigations, if they are conducted, are not conducted by attorneys, but by folks that generally interpret the law in a straightforward manner, without creative or nuanced interpretations that private lawyers develop. Most of these investigations are inconclusive or do not support the accuser if the employer provides some form of pushback.

So while a lawyer’s advice may seem abhorrent – that one should cope with sexual harassment, find other women to support you, hang in there, try and leave your department, try to outlast the accuser, or quit – this is generally an unfortunate reality and one of the dirty secrets of sexual harassment.

A Lesson Learned from Taylor Swift on the Meaning of Damages

The composer and singer, Taylor Swift, recently won a sexual assault lawsuit against a former radio host. He initially sued her stating that she had caused his dismissal. She countersued because she wanted the trial to serve as an “example to other women.” Swift only sought a single dollar in damages, which the jury awarded her.

Yes, Even $1.00 Award Has Implications       

The dollar awarded to Swift brings up some interesting points about how damages are calculated under the law. There are two parts to every case:

  • The first part is liability, meaning that one has to first prove their case before they are entitled to damages. Many people spend most of their energy on the facts of their case, as they are so personally involved in it.
  • Yet, once they are able to prove their case, the next step, and often the most important step, is for them to prove how they were damaged. I often tell clients that even if they receive one dollar in a negotiated settlement, mediation, arbitration, or judge or jury award, that they have prevailed under the law. The one dollar amount is significant because that one dollar can trigger a statute which awards the prevailing party fees and costs in certain areas of the law, including areas of civil rights law.  These awards of attorney’s fees and costs can often be quite large.

Would you be pleased if you only received $1.00 in damages?  No doubt, most people wouldn’t.  The question of how damages are calculated can sometimes be mysterious and it’s good to understand this upfront. The concept of damages is not as simple as one would think. There are different kinds of damages that can apply to different areas of law, and the terms “statutory,” “compensatory,” “liquidated” and “punitive” refer to the types of damages which may be available depending on the type of lawsuit one brings. Damages can sometimes be enhanced by added-on interest or a multiplying factor due to the nature or type of law being pursued, because the lawsuit conferred a benefit to a class of people or the general public, because the lawsuit produced some drastic change in the law, or as otherwise permitted via statute or case law. Many clients feel that they are entitled to receive damages due to their “pain and suffering,” “humiliation,” “emotional distress,” “mental anguish,” or “loss of enjoyment of life,” but these types of damages are not available in all areas of the law.

Is Your Expectation of Damages Supported by the Facts?

Damages generally require an underlying basis in fact. In certain areas of the law, such as personal injury, damages are easy to calculate as they are based on discrete items such as lost wages, and expenses relating to medical care and treatment. In other areas of the law, damages are difficult to calculate, and some damage requests are outside the parameter of what the law or the decision makers are able or willing to do, such as restoring someone to their prior occupation.

What We Think We Deserve May Not Be What the Law Thinks We Deserve

Many people have unrealistic expectations of the damages to which they are entitled, either because they feel that someone has to “pay” for what has happened to them, or because they have heard about large awards received by others, and do not understand the circumstances that distinguish their lawsuit such as forum, jurisdiction, decision-maker, location, the statutes involved, and the factual details of their case. They also do not understand that these large awards are sometimes reduced or overturned at the appeal stage of the legal process, or that the award may never be able to be collected, like the Silverman family who has never been able to collect on their judgment against OJ Simpson. Other times, such as in employment cases, the damages are greatly reduced as they are offset by the earnings or other benefits the terminated person has received, which must be offset against their lost wages.

Our Kudos to Taylor Swift

It is highly likely that Swift would have received a large financial award had she sought it, as many celebrities do.  Quite often it is their very celebrity that leads to their victory or a high award, as well as their ability to afford excellent and expensive attorneys. I give Swift credit because she stood up for her principles. On the other hand, few people can afford to fund an expensive lawsuit in order to arrest their own principles. Bear in mind that someone has to pay for a lawsuit. That someone can be the parties to the lawsuit, their lawyers, or some third party who agrees to fund a lawsuit due to personal or public interest.

I am Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and am a Philadelphia attorney who has been practicing law since 1974.  I am the president and managing attorney of both the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. and Legal Research, Inc.  You can find more about my law office here  and Legal Research, Inc. here.  After my many years of experience, I would like to share my thoughts with you!  You can always contact me via email at, telephone at 215-563-7776, facsimile at 215-563-9996, or in person at 2047 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103.  Please note that nothing on this blog should be construed as legal advice; every case is unique and the appropriate action for it must be individually considered.  A lawyer/client relationship is not established unless you execute a fee agreement with one of my offices.

Don’t Dig Yourself Into A Hole

This is a pop quiz on when it is advantageous to hire a lawyer:

  1. At the beginning of a significant matter in your life which could have a financial and/or emotional impact on your future.
  2. After you have – already signed legal documents that could encumber you, or after you have been sued, or after your deadline to pursue a matter have passed.
  3. After a judgment has been entered against you in a lawsuit you did not defend; years after you did not monitor what was happening with a relative’s estate of which you are a beneficiary; after you settled on a piece of property and begin having major problems.

I would hope that most of my readers would have selected A. Yet in my experience, most people do not hire a lawyer until they have experienced problems in B or C. It is definitely easier to dig oneself out of a hole before one is too deep into the hole to do so.

I surmise it is human nature to wait to take action until a situation has reached crisis proportions. I will provide some examples of problems that clients could have avoided if they would have hired a lawyer at the beginning of their matter. Some of the facts of the matters have been changed, and the names are fictitious.

Example One

John Jones decided to place an offer on a house. The agreement of sale was drafted by a real estate agent who was a friend of John’s family. John decided to have us review the agreement of sale after he and the seller had already signed the agreement. Many people do not realize that a written document takes precedence over a verbal agreement, and even if the parties agree to change the agreement of sale, that agreement is often not valid until it is reduced to writing in a specific form. An exchange of e mails is not the necessary specific form.

We pointed out problems with the agreement because there was no limit on the amount of repairs John would have to pay for after he received his inspector’s report, it would have been John’s sole responsibility to pay for any citations the city would have issued prior to the sale, and the seller asked John to waive any disclosures he would otherwise been legally required to make.

Also, John owned 3 cats. John did not see the documents governing the homeowner’s association until after he signed the agreement, and those documents limited him to 2 cats. Although John was told he could move in with his 3 cats, restrictions were placed on him on whether the cats could remain if problems arose, and John was required to pay a deposit that had not been mentioned before. John has decided to cancel the deal and is waiting to see if there will be a problem with receiving a return of his deposit. If there is such a problem he may have to engage in an expensive mediation process.

Lesson: Always hire a lawyer at the beginning of a legal transaction.

Example Two

Debby Doe contacted us because she was told that she had 21 days (this is a federally mandated time period for employees over 40) in which to review a severance package after she was terminated from her employment. There were two parts to the agreement. Debby was told by her manager that if she signed the agreement the day she received it she would be considered for another position. However, Debby was not offered another position. Debby also suffered from some medical problems, of which her employer was aware, and became confused, upset and anxious when she learned she was being terminated. Debby retained us to secure a better severance package than the minimal package she was offered despite years of being a good employee, and because Debby was confused and intimidated and misled, she did not realize that she had signed both of the agreements, instead of one of them. We are now pursuing a discrimination action on behalf of Debby for lack of accommodation by her employer due to her medical condition, as well as not complying with giving Debby 21 days in which to consider the severance package.

Lesson: Do not let your employer bully or intimidate you into signing a severance package. Give yourself the legally allotted time to review the agreement, and have a lawyer review the agreement and either make suggestions to you as to whether changes are suggested, or try and negotiate a better package for you. Remember, that non-monetary changes are often just as important as monetary changes when considering these agreements.

Example Three

Bill Smith’s mother passed away in 2014.  She did not leave a will, but Bill agreed that his brother Jim could be named to administer their mother’s estate. Bill trusted Jim, and asked him every few months how things were progressing. Jim said things were fine, but there were many things that had to be done under the law, and that he would distribute Bill’s share of the assets as soon as their mother’s house was sold. In 2017 Bill became suspicious and checked some records at the courthouse. He learned that Jim had sold their mother’s house for $1 to Jim’s son, who in turn sold it to a third party for $100,000. Jim also confessed to Bill that he had spent $50,000 in their mother’s bank account on gambling, and had declared bankruptcy. Bill retained us, but by then very little could be done without extensive and expensive litigation which most likely would not have been fruitful.

Lesson: The law books are full of estate cases in which family members have taken advantage of each other. Greed unfortunately trumps kinship. It is wise to hire a lawyer at the earliest opportunity in estate cases and have that lawyer monitor what is happening and what should be happening. The law gives the administrator/executor of an estate broad discretion to act, and often spend the estate’s funds to defend themselves if they are accused of improprieties. It is preferable to hire a lawyer to monitor the situation, than spend many times that amount to sue an administrator whose fees are covered by estate resources.