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Employer Can't Choose the Time for Military Leave

June 14, 1998

Q: As an active-duty officer in the United States armed forces, I am in charge of several reservists who must complete one weekend per month and two weeks per year of active-duty training.

Often, I run into stumbling blocks with their employers, who want to dictate when those active training sessions will occur. For example, one corporal notified me that she is unable to attend critical training this summer because her employer refuses to grant her vacation time during the summer months.

Does federal law prohibit or allow employers to do this?

--J.M., Irvine

A: The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act, enacted in 1994, requires that employers provide employees with leaves of absence needed for military service and reserve and National Guard training. This law also mandates that employees who take a military leave of absence must, under most circumstances, be reinstated in their jobs with no loss of status.

Accordingly, an employer must provide a reservist with leave needed for training. The employer is not in a position to determine when such a leave may be taken.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

Enforcing Supervisor's Oral Promise

Q: Eighteen months ago, I was asked by my supervisor to assume more duties and responsibilities in my office. This was to take effect immediately, with a change in job description and increase in compensation to follow shortly.

However, it seems that my immediate supervisor, a senior manager in the company, has no intention of changing my job description or increasing my salary. My concerns are further compounded by my firm belief that my supervisor will be terminated in the next few months. Your advice on a course of action would be appreciated.

--J.B., Glendale

A: Oral promises in the workplace can be enforced. The problem here is that the representations about changing your job description and increasing your pay "shortly" are vague. Also, it may be difficult to prove the representations if there were no other witnesses.

While your supervisor is still there, consider chatting with him or her about the promises, in front of a witness if possible. You might also ask your supervisor to confirm these representations in writing.

As an alternative, send a letter to the supervisor documenting the promises made.

And don't be shy about presenting the history of your job position and compensation to your next supervisor when the transition is made, especially if it's before your next performance review. If you can confirm that the representations were made and determine exactly when they were to have been fulfilled, you could claim that you are owed back pay from the time your compensation was to have increased.

If the company refuses to cooperate, you might suggest that you at least receive a new job title as a compromise. That might allow you to qualify for other higher positions outside the company.

If you want to stay with your company, however, couch your requests in respectful and diplomatic terms. Ultimately, though, you will have to decide where to draw the line in insisting on fairness.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Mission Viejo

Ensuring Fair Treatment at Work

Q: I have been working in a retail shop owned by a woman who is a few years older than I am. There are also two male salespersons in the store.

I usually work harder than the two men, and do a better job. I know this is true because customers have told me, and I also frequently have to take on work that is left from an earlier shift when one of the male employees was working.

The problem is that the owner is too nice to the men and lets them practically get away with murder. But if I make even one little mistake, she is all over me.

What should I do?

--W.H., Oxnard

A: Without getting into the psychological reasons why your boss might be hard on you and easy on the men, this is primarily an equity issue.

A well-known theory of work motivation emphasizes that most employees are at least partly motivated by a desire to be treated fairly. It appears that this will probably continue to be a problem for you.

Have a talk with your boss and point out her unfair treatment of you and her favoritism toward the other clerks.

If your co-workers are "getting away" with things, and if you are doing their leftover work, your boss needs to establish rules and guidelines for allocating tasks, evaluating performances, scheduling shifts and vacations and describing other work procedures. These rules should help to ensure that all employees are treated alike.

--Ron Riggio, director

Kravis Leadership Institute

Claremont McKenna College

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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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