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Boss OKs Nudes but Bars Commandments

May 18, 1997

Q: Where I work, each person is given a work cubicle and decorates it how they see fit. Some have plants and family pictures. One guy even hangs up a calendar of nude women.

Recently, I hung up a poster of the Ten Commandments. My manager told me that I had to take it down since a couple of the guys have complained bitterly that they were offended by it. However, when I told my boss earlier that the nude calendar was offensive to me, I was told that I had to "lighten up."

What should I do? Do I have the right to decorate my space like everyone else?

--D.W., Fullerton

A: You need to voice your concerns to your supervisor immediately. It is unfair and inequitable for your supervisor to allow some workers to put up any decorations they want, then to arbitrarily disapprove of another worker's office decorations.

It is also unfair for your supervisor to respond to some workers' claims that a poster is offensive but to ignore your similar complaint.

Your supervisor is not handling this situation very well, and your boss needs to do something about it. My guess is that it is only one symptom of a greater underlying problem in which your boss and some co-workers are attempting to impose their values on you. Perhaps a group meeting, getting all of the relevant issues out in the open, will help.

Certainly management should investigate claims from you and other employees that material posted in the workplace is objectionable. Allowing a calendar of nude women to be posted in a public area, for example, could be construed as degrading and offensive by some employees and could have legal ramifications for the company.

Since it does not appear that your company has any formal policy regarding decorating individual work areas, one should be established. In no case, however, is it wise for your supervisor to maintain "double standards," in which some workers are favored over others.

--Ron Riggio, director

Kravis Leadership Institute

Claremont McKenna College

Delay in First Pension Payment Not Unusual

Q: I have worked long enough for a large retailer of electronic items to be eligible for a pension. I am past age 65 and want to retire.

When I called the pension department to inquire how long it would take to get my checks started, I was told it would take three months. Isn't a wait of three months a bit unusual to start a pension or is this the usual for most companies?

--D.H., Claremont

A: It is unclear what type of plan is involved. If it is a defined benefit pension plan, which guarantees a specific benefit upon retirement, three months is a bit long but not out of the ordinary.

If it is a defined contribution plan, in which a portion of the employee's salary is contributed to the plan and may be matched by the employer, three months is about normal, especially if the plan is on a quarterly valuation basis. Under such a plan, your former employer must wait until the end of the quarter to determine the value of your account. Even then, it may take several weeks from the end of the quarter for all of the calculations to be completed.

You might consider calling the pension department again. Ask them what type of plan is involved, at what intervals accounts are valued, and why so long a delay.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

Overtime Exemption Is a Complicated Area

Q: What are the current laws regarding overtime for salaried employees? My boss insists that he can require employees to work as many hours as it takes to meet a deadline for completing a project. This sometimes means working 15-hour days, up to six consecutive days. Sometimes, it means working 48 hours continuously without sleep.

He states that since we're on salary, we are due no compensation either in overtime pay or in comp. time. I find this hard to believe.

--J.M., Burbank

A: The law permits your employer to schedule you to work these long hours. But unless you are classified as "exempt" under the overtime laws, you must be paid 1 1/2 times your hourly wage for work beyond 40 hours in a workweek or eight hours in a workday. After 12 hours in a workday, you are entitled to he paid double your hourly wage rate.

(Under new state regulations, which are being challenged in court, workers without a collective bargaining agreement will lose their right to daily overtime beginning Jan. 1, 1998. For most employees, the new state regulations will not affect overtime requirements for work after 40 hours.)

Contrary to popular belief, employees do not lose their right to overtime pay merely because they are paid a salary rather than hourly wages. To be exempt from the overtime laws, an employee must perform primarily executive, administrative or professional duties, or fall under another statutory exemption. These exemptions are defined in complicated regulations.

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