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Employer's Taping, Though Embarrassing, May Be Legal

March 01, 1998

Q I am a salaried employee for a large corporation that holds an annual conference. I was told in advance that one evening at the conference would be spent performing team karaoke songs. What I wasn't told was that the performances would be videotaped, copied and shown to employees who did not attend the conference.

I feel embarrassed and humiliated. I did not authorize these tapes. Is it legal for the company to do this?

--T.D., Irvine

*

A It depends on how the tape was used. California law prohibits anyone, including an employer, from using pictures or videotapes taken of others for commercial purposes without the consent of the person who is depicted in the picture or videotape. Therefore, if the videotape was used by your employer to advertise or solicit in any way, it may have been unlawful for your employer to use it without your consent.

However, if it was only used to boost morale among employees who did not see the performance, it may not be illegal.

It is obvious, however, given your reaction, that employers should be cautious before encouraging employees to engage in potentially embarrassing conduct and taping it without their knowledge.

--Michael A. Hood

Employment law attorney

Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker

References for Terminated Employee

Q. I was unfairly discharged from a long-term part-time job. I decided not to fight because I didn't want to keep working part time and for a terrible boss.

But I'm concerned about what they are telling prospective employers when they check my employment history. How can I find out what they are reporting?

--A.H., Palmdale

A. There is no sure-fire way to know what your former employer is saying about you to prospective employers.

However, a number of recent California decisions give terminated employees even more protection than they had previously.

It has long been the law that an employer (or anyone for that matter) may be held responsible for saying or writing untrue negative things about a former employee, if those statements caused injury to the employee.

Recently, a California court also ruled that an employer has no obligation to provide any references regarding a former employee. But if the employer does decide to provide a reference to a prospective employer, it has an obligation to state everything--positive and negative--that it knew about the employee, the court noted.

As a result of these decisions and the laws that existed before, most employers are reluctant to say anything about a former employee other than to provide the dates of employment and the position the employee held. Your former employer may well have such a policy.

If you believe your former employer may say negative and untrue things about you, however, you may want to consider writing a letter to the employer outlining your concern and the damage you believe will be done to you if these untruths prevent you from getting another job.

If you learn that your former employer has actually made such untrue and negative statements, you should contact an employment attorney and discuss the matter.

--Diane J. Crumpacker

Employment law attorney

Fried, Bird & Crumpacker

Reimbursement for Travel Expenses

Q. What is the standard amount paid for mileage reimbursement?

--C.H., Orange

A. According to the California Labor Code, employers are required to reimburse employees for travel expenses incurred in a work assignment. There is no set amount that the employer needs to pay, but it should be based on your actual expenses.

Obviously, this could be difficult to determine. It might involve evaluating the cost of gas, oil, repair, and wear and tear to the vehicle.

The Internal Revenue Service has approved an arbitrary amount of 31.5 cents per mile for travel reimbursement. As a practical matter, most employers use that exact amount in reimbursing their employees.

If you suggest that the employer pay more, you would need to justify it. The employer can't discipline or fire you for past expenses that you claim exceed that amount. However, the company can prevent you from incurring those kind of expenses in the future by not giving you authorization to travel, or asking you to use less expensive transportation.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Mission Viejo

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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