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Company Shouldn't Be So Casual About Casual Dress

September 14, 1997

Q: On Fridays, our company allows employees to dress casually, and most people wear shorts and T-shirts. However, when I wore a T-shirt that says "Jesus Saves" and with a large cross on the front, I was told that it was religious-based and that I could not wear it to work. My manager sent me home to change.

However, other people wear T-shirts with slogans on them, including one worker who has a rock 'n' roll T-shirt that says "Satan Rules." It doesn't seem fair that my manager made me change shirts.

--D.W., Fullerton

A: It sounds as if your company needs to establish some rules or guidelines for dress on casual Fridays. There seems to be a double standard--one that doesn't make it clear to employees what is appropriate and inappropriate dress.

Discuss this with your supervisor or at a company meeting. Playing favorites and treating employees inequitably are always bad managerial strategies. Someone in charge needs to be made aware of your situation immediately.

--Ron Riggio, director

Kravis Leadership Institute

Claremont McKenna College

No Penalty for Refusing to Sign Return

Q: I am the only employee in a home-based business who was asked to sign the company's quarterly tax returns and to include my Social Security number.

It is part of my function to collect company data and prepare the tax forms for review, but I have never been asked to sign them until now. I refused, claiming that the possible liability incurred was beyond my scope of responsibility and position. I am basically an office clerk who earns $9.62 an hour. I'm not a trained accountant or a chief financial officer and don't really know the law and its liabilities.

Now my refusal may cost me my job or result in a reduction in pay. I would like to know what responsibility I would assume by signing the company tax forms, and whether a company can penalize me for refusing to sign.

--G.D., Glendale

A: By signing a return, you are certifying that it is accurate to the best of your knowledge and belief. Therefore, you can be held criminally responsible for knowingly signing a false return.

The key word, of course, is "knowingly." Obviously, if you unintentionally sign a return that is not true and are unaware that it is untrue, you will not have any criminal responsibility.

However, the tax laws generally require that a return be signed by an officer of a corporation, a partner of a partnership or the owner of a business. Because a return would not be lawful with only your signature, you cannot be terminated for refusing to be the only person who signs it.

If you were terminated under those circumstances, it would probably be a violation of California law, entitling you to sue your employer for wrongful termination.

--Michael A. Hood

Employment law attorney

Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker

Tough to Prove Unfulfilled Promises

Q: My supervisor and vice president promised me a pay increase and title change. I waited four months, then was brushed off when I asked about it. "We are still working on it," I was told. I left the company for that reason. Do I have any legal grounds for suing?

--D.D., Gardena

A: A company can be liable for unfulfilled promises to give a pay increase and title change.

The problem is proving that the representations were really promises. To break the your-word-against-theirs stalemate, it would help to have some written documentation or confirmation by another witness.

Your employer will probably maintain that the timing of the change was not certain. The company may also contend that it never did reject the raise, simply that it was "still working on it."

It's difficult to determine from your letter if you had sufficient legal justification for leaving. It's called "constructive wrongful termination."

It might depend on the amount of the promised increase. For example, if they promised to increase your pay from $60,000 to $61,000 per year, your justification for leaving would not be as strong as if you had been promised a much higher increase.

Another factor is whether or not you passed up other job opportunities based on unfulfilled promises. The more evidence of lost opportunities, the better your case would be.

Evaluate the reason for the delay. If it is based on illegal discrimination, your claims against your former employer would expand.

If you can show that they knew they would never fulfill the promises at the time they made them, you might have a claim for fraud that would allow you to recover more than if there were a simple breach of contract. Even if you do have legal grounds for suing, however, evaluate if it is really worth it. Weigh your chances of winning, along with the amount you might recover, against the costs and time of pursuing your claim.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Mission Viejo

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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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