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Boss Can Reassign Worker From Day to Night Shift

April 12, 1998

Q: Although my company operates around the clock, I was originally hired two years ago to work the day shift. Now the night crew wants to be transferred to days, and I am concerned that I may be switched to a night shift.

Is it legal for my employer to force me to work the night shift when my offer letter did not mention a night shift? What steps can I take to remain on the day shift?

--B.G., Lake Forest

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A: Unless you have a contractual right to remain on the day shift, the law permits an employer to reassign employees to different work schedules as it deems necessary.

You say your offer letter did not mention a night shift. If it did not specifically guarantee you the day shift, however, you would probably not have a contractual right to remain on the day shift. Even if the offer letter mentioned the day shift, it still might not be binding, if there is other language in the offer letter or in the employee handbook reserving the employer's right to maintain flexibility with respect to work assignments.

You can express to your employer your strong desire to remain on the day shift, and remind him or her that it was your understanding when you were hired that you would work days. It appears doubtful, however, that you would have any legal recourse in the event your employer decides to make a change.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

Interview Is a Learning Experience

Q: I recently interviewed with a government agency for an entry-level position. The application included a written test and a request for information on previous experience. There were about 300 people in the original pool, and I was one of three applicants interviewed for the job.

The interview was very formal and took place in front of a panel of city administrators. I don't believe that I did well in that environment because my personality style is more informal. I would have been more comfortable in a less formal setting, instead of answering questions as if I were a finalist in the Miss America pageant.

Is it too late to recoup? What do you suggest I do to influence them in my favor?

Should I write a letter, or perhaps contact them by phone to try to impress them in a more personal way?

--E.P., Downey

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A: Informing the interviewers that you were uncomfortable in the panel interview situation is probably not going to help you.

If there is someone with whom you had some direct contact at the agency, you might call to thank him or her for the opportunity to interview. If you have the opportunity, you might mention that you felt that you could have done better in the interview.

The best thing you can do is to learn from this experience. You may encounter similar interview situations in the future, and you should prepare for them.

The next time you are scheduled for an interview, ask about the interview format--such as who and how many individuals will be interviewing you--so that you will be better prepared mentally. You might even practice interviewing in front of friends.

--Ron Riggio, director

Kravis Leadership Institute

Claremont McKenna College

Competing for Former Customers

Q: I am a chemical salesperson who 10 years ago signed a contract with my current employer that states that I cannot contact existing customers for 18 months after leaving the company.

All my customers are in California, but the contract says the agreement is "governed by the laws of Pennsylvania."

I find myself now very much interested in working for a different chemical supplier. Does this contract have any validity in California?

--J.S., Long Beach

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A: It depends on two factors. First, there would have to be some legitimate basis for applying the law in California to your situation. If your employer is in Pennsylvania and you entered into your employment agreement in Pennsylvania, there is some possibility that the laws of that state would apply.

Second, if California law applies, your promise not to contact customers would not be enforceable if you had a straight employment agreement with your employer.

However, you should be aware that even if the contract is not enforceable, there are statutes that would prohibit your using your current employer's trade secrets to compete with it once you leave. Under certain circumstances, your knowledge of your current employer's customers, or of its customer list, could be a trade secret, and you and your new employer could be stopped by a court from competing with your current employer by using such information.

I would recommend that you consult with an attorney to determine what rights you may have to disregard the agreement you signed.

--Michael A. Hood

Employment law attorney

Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker

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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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