Do you have a question about an on-the-job situation? If so, please mail it to Shop Talk, Los Angeles Times, P.O. Box 2008, Costa Mesa, CA 92626; call (714) 966-7873 and leave a voice-mail message; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column on Mondays.
Q: The president of our small company wants me to be signatory on our checking account. Currently we have only two signatories and we need someone to sign checks when one or both of them is out of town.
I am not a company officer and I do not deal with financial matters on a daily basis. If I agree to do this, do I need to protect myself in any way?
A: You really do not have any choice of whether or not to "agree" to become a signatory. If the president of your company directs you to do so and you refuse, you could be terminated for insubordination.
As far as protecting yourself is concerned, the best thing to do is to make sure that anyone requesting that you sign a company check first provide you with documentation to support the disbursement. To protect yourself further, you may want to make photocopies of all checks you sign and the backup documentation for each. Also, you should never sign any check (say, for reimbursement of expenses) that is made payable to you.
The California Labor Code provides that employers must indemnify their employees for all claims made against them while acting in the course and scope of their duties. If your employer bounced a check to a creditor and that creditor sought criminal penalties or civil damages against you, your employer would be obligated to pay any damages or fines assessed against you, as well as any attorney fees you would incur.
--James J. McDonald Jr., Attorney, Fisher & Phillips, Labor law instructor, UC Irvine
Worker Wants Option of Cashing In Days
Q: My employer changed our sick leave policy in 1982 after I had accrued six months of sick time, the maximum amount.
The new policy has cash-out provisions, which makes it significantly better. Under the old policy, the accumulated hours were placed in a separate account and could be used only for sick time durations longer than seven days, hospitalizations or for the death of a family member. For all practical purposes, I cannot and have never been able to use any significant amounts of my previously accrued hours.
Can an employer change a policy retroactively for a previously accrued benefit? These hours should be made available or they should allow me to cash them out.
--B.K., Newport Beach
A: Even though the question is not totally clear, it sounds like you want to make the employer's new policy apply retroactively to your previous accrued benefits.
It can happen that way if the employer meant it to be. How your previous accrued benefits are handled depends upon the contractual commitments of the employer at that time.
It appears that those accrued benefits were subject to several conditions for which you have never qualified. Not only does it seem to be difficult to refit those old benefits into the new program, but it may create some hard feelings between you and your employer in the process.
Additionally, there may be a problem on timing. If you first asked the employer to apply the new rule to the old benefits more than four years ago and they refused at that time, you may have lost your rights to complain.
Regardless, it sounds like you can still take advantage of those benefits indefinitely in the future if you comply with the requirements. They may continue to be valuable to you in the unfortunate event that you are in a position to ultimately use them. This kind of sounds like insurance--you hate to be in a position to have to use it, but if you do, you're glad it's there.
Under California law, certain accrued benefits such as vacation pay must be paid upon termination of employment. Other benefits, such as for sick pay, may not necessarily be paid on a date of termination, depending upon the employer's contractual policy.
--Don D. Sessions, Employee rights attorney, Mission Viejo
State, Federal Agencies May Help Employee
Q: I am an independent agent working under a sales contract with a company in Houston. Who can I contact about situations that involve out-of-state employer-employee disputes?
A: If you are employed in the state of California, its laws would be applicable to your employment, even though your employer is based in Texas. You may contact the appropriate California agency with jurisdiction over the particular kind of dispute that you have with your employer. In addition, there may be federal agencies with concurrent jurisdiction over the same kind of dispute that you could contact in California. All such agencies have local offices in California.
If you are employed in Texas, there probably are state agencies there that could handle your problem. And, again, you may have access to various federal agencies that have jurisdiction over employment disputes.