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Supervisor Should Spell Out What New Worker's Job Entails

March 23, 1997

Q: I am a rather new employee, still learning all of the functions of my new position. On a day-to-day basis I am required to work with about 20 other employees, often completing tasks for them.

I don't mind going above and beyond the call of duty. However, there are only so many hours in a day. My question is: How do I determine whether what they are asking me to do is actually part of my job requirement? Do I question each person as I am approached, or do I go to my supervisor each time I am unsure?

I want to make a good impression and certainly don't mind hard work, but I need to be clear on just what my job involves.

--S.B., Anaheim

A: You should definitely set up an appointment with your supervisor and thoroughly review your job responsibilities and the scope of your job. It is unfortunate that this was not made clear to you when you started the position.

All too often, companies fail to provide adequate orientation and training to new employees. Uncertainty about job responsibilities can greatly reduce the productivity of new workers and can cause them stress.

My guess is that your supervisor will be grateful that you brought this issue to his or her attention and that your supervisor will want to clear up all of your questions and concerns.

--Ron Riggio, director

Kravis Leadership Institute Claremont McKenna College

When You're Sick and Get Fired

Q: While I was out on medical disability for severe depression, I received a letter from my company saying that I must return to work July 12. My doctor faxed back that I would not return until Aug. 30.

I was fired. When I applied for unemployment, however, I was told I didn't qualify because I had failed to return to work. Can a company fire you while you are on a medical leave?

--J.L., Monrovia

A: There are many ways that your company may have acted improperly in firing you while you were on medical leave. Review disability and other contractual policies to determine whether you are protected from being terminated while on medical leave.

If your medical condition results from your work environment, your leave might more appropriately fall under workers' compensation rules. The law restricts an employer from retaliating against an employee who pursues workers' compensation rights. There are limits, however, depending upon the length of the leave and the reasonable needs of the company.

The Americans With Disabilities Act requires employers to "reasonably accommodate" certain workers with specified disabilities. Such issues usually arise when there are physical limitations on an employee's work abilities. It will be argued, however, that severe depression may not be covered under that law.

According to the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act and its California counterpart, employees in companies with at least 50 employees can take up to 12 weeks' leave for disability reasons.

The employee needs to work a certain number of hours in a year, and the illness needs to be of a certain severity to qualify. If the facts of your case apply, the company is required to return you to your former position if you are able to return within 12 weeks of your disability.

It is very easy for a business to make a mistake in applying these laws. For example, it is the employer's responsibility to notify you that your leave qualifies under this law and is being counted against the 12-week allocation.

The 12-week leave doesn't begin until the company provides this written notice. If the company fires you before the 12-week period expires, it could be liable for wrongful termination.

With a variety of laws protecting you, there is a good chance that your company can't fire you while you're on medical leave.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Mission Viejo

What Must an Employer Supply?

Q: I work for a major life insurance company that provides software for producing sales illustrations and tracking the company's clients. The software is used to sell only the company's product line, and I'm responsible for serving the clients.

I have now been informed that I will be required to pay for software and technical support. Furthermore, if I refuse to pay for the support (which is my option) I will not be provided with future software updates or technical support.

Is the company allowed to do this?

--J.N., Covina

A: It depends on whether you are an employee of the insurance company or an independent contractor. Many insurance agents are considered independent contractors, even if they sell insurance for only one company.

If you are an agent, you should review your agency agreement to determine your status. If you are an independent contractor, you can be charged for the various sales support items that are supplied to you.

On the other hand, it you are an employee, your employer cannot charge you for these items. California law requires that employers provide employees with the means necessary to perform their jobs. If these sales support materials are necessary for you to perform your job, the charge would appear to be improper.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

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