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Is It Risky to Complain About a Retiring CEO?

September 07, 1997

Q: Our CEO is retiring after several years. He has continually used his office for personal gain, has stolen supplies and committed many workplace infractions, such as discussing personnel matters in the hallways in front of staff members and making comments about workers' sexual habits, health and weight problems.

There is talk that he may be retained as a consultant after his retirement. Should we go to the board of directors and advise them of his indiscretions? We don't want to hurt the organization and are legitimately concerned about reprisals.

--D.R., Irvine

A: It is illegal for a company to retaliate against an employee who blows the whistle on illegalities in the workplace.

Certainly your allegations of theft and perhaps sexual harassment might reach this level. But complaints about poor management, such as discussing personnel matters in front of staff members or commenting about weight problems, may not give you protection under whistle-blower statutes.

I question whether it is really worth complaining about the executive's past actions. Evaluate his role as a consultant. Perhaps he will not have the opportunities to commit the wrongs he did before.

If you are still concerned about the harm he could do to the company, consider an anonymous complaint.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Mission Viejo

Employer Dodging Lodging Expenses

Q: I am employed as a research assistant in a medical laboratory at a public university. My employer recently required me to attend a four-day medical conference in San Diego.

I was assured that I would be fully reimbursed for attending the conference. I went out of my way to hold down expenses. I took my car to avoid airline and car rental costs. I stayed at a distant hotel that was $100 a night cheaper than hotels downtown.

When I returned, I submitted my receipts, but my employer refused to pay for any expenses except the cost of the conference. Isn't it correct to assume that the cost of attending a conference at a distant city would include travel and lodging? What recourse do I have?

--H.H., Encino

A: Section 2802 of the California Labor Code provides that an employer must reimburse employees for all necessary expenses incurred by them in performing their duties. This includes attendance at training programs required by the employer.

Your request for reimbursement would appear to fall within the law, as it would be unreasonable to expect you to travel back and forth from Encino to San Diego on four consecutive days. If your employer continues to refuse to reimburse you, you can file a claim with the state labor commissioner's office, although I suggest that you try once more to get your employer to pay you before you bring legal action.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

'Non-Compete' Pact Probably Invalid

Q: In 1991, I signed a "non-compete agreement" that basically bars me from working for a competitor for a period of three years. My employer is located in Illinois, but I represent them in Southern California. How binding is this agreement?

--K.B., Westminster

A: The agreement is probably not binding. Under California law, agreements such as the one you described are generally regarded as illegal restraints on trade and are unenforceable.

The only exception is where these agreements are entered into as part of a sale of a business or partnership, or a sale of stock in a corporation. Assuming those exceptions do not apply, the agreement should not be enforceable against you under California law.

Because your employer is in Illinois, it does raise the issue of whether Illinois law, which may be less favorable to you, applies to your agreement. Assuming that you reside in California, it is most likely that California law would apply.

--Michael A. Hood

Employment law attorney

Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker

Who Pays for Time in Drug Test?

Q: I am employed by a company that recently required me to take a drug test that took three hours of my time. I asked if I could charge these hours on my time sheet and was told no. Is this legal?

--D.L., Culver City

A: In general, an hourly employee is entitled to be paid for all time in which the employee is subject to the control of the employer. Thus, if you are a nonsalaried employee and your employer required you to take the drug test, you are entitled to three hours' pay. Similarly, if you are a salaried employee, your employer cannot reduce your regular pay because part of your work period was spent taking the test.

--Joseph L. Paller Jr.

Union, employee attorney

Gilbert & Sackman

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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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