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Union Contract May Have Better Terms for Jury Duty

November 29, 1998

Q: I work for one of the movie studios and am a union member. For the last three years, my workweek has been Wednesday through Sunday.

After receiving a jury duty summons recently, I asked the department supervisor if I would have Saturdays and Sundays off during my jury service. I was told that I would be expected to work my normal shift. (The studio pays for its employees to serve 10 days of jury duty.)

So I worked 19 days in a row and did not receive pay for four of these days. It's my feeling that because of my odd work schedule, I've fallen through a crack.

I wrote my union representative, but she has ignored my letter and phone calls. I don't know what to do now. Any suggestions?

--L.L., Marina del Rey

A: My first suggestion is to review the jury duty language in your union contract.

Most union contracts provide greater protections than the law provides for unrepresented employees. California law merely prohibits an employer from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an employee for taking time off to serve on a jury or to appear as a witness. Employers are not legally required to count the time taken as compensable work time. In contrast, your union contract requires that you be compensated for the first 10 days of your jury service.

Collective bargaining agreements vary in their treatment of jury service. Some contracts say that employees who serve on a jury will be considered to have worked the day shift on a Monday through Friday workweek and will be entitled to receive regular pay, at straight time rates, for all time spent in jury service. Some union contracts also require that overtime premiums be paid when employees on jury duty work at their regular jobs on nights or weekends.

If your union contract appears to support your claim, I suggest that you meet in person with your union representative. Ask her how the jury duty language has been interpreted in the past and find out whether she agrees with you that the contract supports your claim.

If you remain convinced that your case has merit, be sure to file a formal grievance and call your union frequently to monitor the progress of the case.

--Joseph L. Paller Jr.

Union, employee attorney

Gilbert & Sackman

Accused of Rumormongering, Fired

Q: I was fired recently, supposedly for starting rumors about a relationship between my supervisor and a salesman in our office.

I didn't start any rumors, but they became suspicious when my boyfriend at the time raised the subject with a co-worker who is a friend of the supervisor. My supervisor, who was nice and happy one minute, became hostile.

I called in sick one day, and when I came back I was fired. I was told I was not a good fit and that I was being negative in the department.

My supervisor had no specific issues to back up the termination. I was written up only once, and that was regarding a totally different issue.

Can you just fire someone because you're having an affair and the company is talking? Do I have any legal recourse against the company and the people involved in my firing?

--M.G., Tustin

A: Employers have a great deal of authority to fire an employee who is gossiping about the boss. Many employees can be fired "at will"--with or without cause--simply because the boss does not like them or because there is "bad chemistry."

Your employer's right to fire you is not absolute, however. Your company may be required to have a good reason to fire you, especially if you worked there for a substantial period of time, if the employer has a policy requiring that it give notice or show good cause, or if the dismissal is based on discrimination or other illegal factors.

Among other things, you should evaluate whether fraternization between a supervisor and a subordinate employee violates company policy.

Many companies prohibit management personnel from dating or having relationships with lower-level employees, especially those under their supervision. In that situation, employees might be able to justify a discussion of the relationship because a company policy is involved.

Also evaluate if the supervisor granted more benefits to the salesman. It might provide evidence of sex discrimination in the workplace.

If your former boyfriend also is an employee at your company, it seems unfair that you were fired and he kept his job. This also might be an example of a double standard and sex discrimination.

Finally, it might be just a coincidence, but it looks suspicious for you to have been fired one day after calling in sick. There are many laws that prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who use authorized medical leave or have a disability.

The nature of your sickness and the motivation of the employer would have to be further scrutinized.

Your claim, if any, would be against the company and not your supervisor. Unless you can prove harassment, aside from general discrimination, the supervisor has no personal liability.

--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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