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Double Standard Regarding Office Decorations Is Wrong

May 18, 1997

Q. Where I work, each person is given a work cubicle and allowed to decorate it as he sees 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 I had to take it down because 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

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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 also is 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, with all the relevant issues discussed openly, would help.

Management should investigate claims by 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.

Because 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 a double standard favoring some workers over others.

--Ron Riggio, director

Kravis Leadership Institute

Claremont McKenna College

Tell Boss the Reason for Leave

Q. I work full time and want to take a leave of absence to do a 10-week summer internship at a firm I'd love to work for. Should I tell my employer why I'm taking the leave of absence?

Since the internship is paid, is it legal to be employed full time by two firms? I am salaried at my full-time position and the internship would be hourly.

--G.Y., Los Angeles

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A What you propose to do is perfectly legal. There is no law limiting the number of jobs you may hold at a time.

But you should tell your employer why you are taking the leave. Most employers have a rule that states that providing a false reason for requesting a leave is grounds for termination. Also, your employer may well learn why you have taken the leave.

--Michael A. Hood

Employment law attorney

Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker

Overtime for Salaried Workers

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 for 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

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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 be 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 a hourly wage. To be exempt from 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.

In addition, exempt employees must truly be salaried. Their paychecks cannot be reduced if they are late for work, leave early or fail to complete an assignment. If their salaries fluctuate based on their hours or the quality or quantity of their work, the exempt employees are not paid a true salary and should receive overtime pay.

Your letter does not provide sufficient information to determine whether you are an exempt employee and are paid a true salary. Because the overtime laws are complicated, I urge you to consult an attorney or contact one of the agencies that administer these laws--the U.S. Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division or the California Labor Commissioner.

--Joseph L. Paller Jr.

Union, employee attorney

Gilbert & Sackman

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