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Supervisor May Be Legally Required to Grant a Leave

August 25, 1996

Q I have two children younger than 3, and my wife is going to have another baby. I asked my supervisor to give me a two-week leave to take care of my wife and children. But my supervisor would give me only one day and said he will document me as "absent without excuse" if I take more than that.

Do I have the right to ask for paternity leave or family leave?

--M.T., Victorville

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A You may have substantial leave rights under federal and state laws.

Both Congress and the Legislature have enacted laws that entitle an employee with at least a year's tenure at a business with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for designated purposes. An employee can take the leave during any 12-month period. Both laws allow leave for care of a newborn child or of a spouse with a "serious health condition." Leave is also allowed for an employee's own serious health condition.

Upon returning from such a leave, you would generally be entitled to the same or equivalent position. Retaliation against you for taking a leave is absolutely prohibited.

The two-week leave you requested appears to be well within the 12-week allowance. However, you did not indicate how incapacitated your wife is. If she is going to have a baby eight months from now, it may be harder to justify leave on these grounds than if she is bedridden or about to give birth. You have to establish that she has a serious health condition that makes your presence necessary.

Aside from the laws, evaluate the policy of your own company. Look at the employee handbook to see what type of personal leave is allowed.

If your supervisor documents you as "absent without an excuse," ask for elaboration. Does this mean that the company intends to fire you because of it? Will this affect your next review?

You might want to send your supervisor a polite letter about the laws I have just described, and ask the company to reconsider its policy.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Universal City

'Off the Record' Probably Isn't

Q I recently had to re-interview for my job because of a corporate reorganization. At the time of the interview, I commented on the changes to our human relations representative but said my remarks were "off the record."

I later learned from some very reliable executives within the company that these comments were considered on the record and may jeopardize my chances of remaining with this firm. If I am terminated, do I have any legal rights if my "off the record" comments influenced the decision?

--A.M., Hollywood

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A Generally, remarks to an employer are never "off the record." The law requires an employer to eliminate potential discrimination and dangers in the workplace. An employee's statement could potentially cause an employer to be liable for negligent hiring, retention and supervision. For example, an employee should expect to be fired if he said, "Off the record, I will fire the next black person who walks in my office."

However, an employer may not be able to use "off the record" comments that aren't discriminatory or dangerous if the employer promised not to use the comments against the employee. That does not appear to be the situation here since you did not receive such a promise before making your comments.

--William H. Hackel III

Employment law attorney

Spray, Gould & Bowers

Making Change Easier for Employees to Handle

Q My business has grown steadily for the last nine years. As it has grown, changes seem to affect my employees in a negative way. Is there a cost-effective way to prepare employees for change and growth within a company?

--C.S. Costa Mesa

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A As can be seen by the rapid changes in technology, economic conditions, consumer tastes, etc., change is an inevitable part of today's fast-paced society. In work organizations, constant change, transformation, growth and shrinkage are a way of life.

Yet human beings still do not adapt well to change. In fact, there is a psychological resistance to change in most people. The best way for companies to tackle change-related problems is to anticipate and prepare for them.

Preparing for and managing change in organizations is not easy, so many companies have enlisted the assistance of specialists in the area of "organizational development" and organizational change. Many management consultants advertise their expertise in this area.

If you prefer an in-house approach for dealing with growth and change, try to develop an organizational climate or "culture" that is accepting of the changes that will inevitably occur and will work to adapt to them.

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