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Laid-Off Employee Allowed to Inspect Personnel File

December 15, 1996

Q: I was a salaried professional before I was laid off. I have requested copies of my personnel file but have not received them. How can I get my former employer to give me the information?

--M.C., Lake Forest

A: Under Section 1198.5 of the California Labor Code, an employee has the right to inspect his or her personnel file at reasonable times upon request. Also, Section 432 of the Labor Code gives employees the right to make copies of all documents that the employee signed relating to his or her employment.

Since you requested a copy of your entire personnel file, your former employer may have considered your request too broad. You may want to send a letter to your former employer citing the above Labor Code provisions and requesting that you be allowed to inspect your personnel file and make copies of those documents that you signed.

--Josephine Staton Tucker

Employment law attorney

Morrison & Foerster

Dealing With Manager's Misbehavior

Q: My new supervisor abuses such things as lunch breaks and vacation time and believes she is exempt because she is a manager. This is her first position as a supervisor. My co-workers and I believe that this sets a bad example, especially when she leaves us with work to do but provides no guidance. It is beginning to create morale problems in the group.

If we complain about her, it might look like sour grapes from those of us who were overlooked for the promotion to her position. What are our options?

--S.M., Covina

A: Your supervisor's behavior sets a bad example, is counterproductive and is affecting group morale. Steps should be taken immediately to deal with the problem.

As I see it, you have two options. You can report her behavior to her supervisor. If there is evidence to support your supervisor's misbehavior, it is unlikely that management will think that you are acting out of jealousy or "sour grapes." Alternatively, you could request a group meeting with your supervisor so that work group members could present their concerns in a tactful way that might minimize the possibility that your supervisor might retaliate against one or a few members.

Hopefully, your supervisor will use the information as a learning opportunity to become a better supervisor.

--Ron Riggio

Director, Kravis Leadership

Institute

Claremont McKenna College

Continuing Health Coverage

Q: I recently quit my job due to my supervisor's harassment and the refusal of the company to respond appropriately. I received a letter from my medical insurance company informing me that my insurance coverage was terminated the next business day after I quit.

Can they do this? Doesn't the 30-day grace period apply, or is it waived if there are fewer than than 50 employees in the company?

--J.W., Kagel Canyon

A: The threshold for coverage of the COBRA law requiring continuation of health insurance is 20 employees, not 50.

If your employer has 20 or more employees, it must provide you with notice of your option to continue your health insurance coverage, at your expense (plus up to a 2% administrative charge), for up to 18 months after your resignation or termination. The notice must be provided to you within 14 days of your last day of work, and you have up to 60 days after receipt of the notice to elect COBRA coverage. It you elect COBRA coverage, it becomes effective on your last day of employment.

An employer that fails to provide a timely COBRA notice may be liable for both monetary penalties and the medical costs of the former employee that would have been covered by COBRA if a timely notice had been provided and COBRA coverage elected.

Even if your employer is not covered by COBRA, California law requires that you be given the option of continuing your health coverage at your own expense for at least 90 days, or until you obtain coverage under another plan or move out of state. The employer must notify you of this option within 14 days of termination from group coverage, and you have 31 days in which to elect to continue coverage.

You should notify your former employer of this problem as soon as possible and try to get them to correct it. They may not be aware of the law, or your cancellation may have been the result of a clerical error on the part of your former employer or the insurance company. There still may be time to correct it to the benefit of both you and your former employer.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

labor law instructor, UC Irvine

Unsafe Workplace Conditions

Q: The stairs leading to my office are a safety hazard. One person has already fallen and gotten hurt. I put in a request two months ago to get the cracked stairs fixed, but nothing has been done. Should I file a complaint with the safety board? What should be my next step?

--T.S., Pomona

A: If you have not already done so, I would write a letter to your employer requesting that the condition be fixed. If you do not receive a satisfactory response, then I would contact the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and complain about the condition.

The law allows you to make anonymous complaints to the state division and protects you from retaliation from your employer for making complaints either to your employer or to the agency.

--Michael A. Hood

Employment law attorney

Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker

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If you have a question about an on-the-job situation, please mail it to Shop Talk, Los Angeles Times, P.O. Box 2008, Costa Mesa, CA 92626; dictate it to (714) 966-7873; or e-mail it to shoptalk@latimes.com. Include your initials and hometown. The Shop Talk column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.

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