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Employer Wants a Deposit on Keys to the Restroom

October 11, 1998

Q: I am an employee of a financial institution.

The employer has locked the restrooms and is charging each employee a $2 deposit for a key. The alternative is not to use the facilities or find someone to lend you a key.

The money is not significant, but can they legally deny employees access to toilet facilities in this manner?

--R.J., Pasadena

*

A: According to California statutes, employers are required to provide appropriate restroom facilities for their employees. There cannot be financial conditions imposed on that access.

The issue is whether access to the restrooms is reasonable. The employer might have a justifiable reason for keeping the restrooms locked. Perhaps the company wants to discourage non-employees from using them.

I see no problem in charging a deposit for those employees who want more convenient access to the restrooms, as long as a key is always available from a supervisor upon request. If it is too difficult to find someone, preferably a supervisor, to lend you a key, then the policy would be illegal.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Mission Viejo

When the Register Comes Up Short

Q: A friend manages a store that takes in several thousand dollars in receipts daily. Different employees close out the cash registers nightly and report whether they balance out or are short or over.

During the last month, the marketing company contacted my friend to inform him that his store was $800 short in the last month and that all of the employees are responsible for paying for the loss.

Bear in mind that the employees at the store earn a paltry $7.50 an hour and work less than 40 hours a week. My contention is that losses, although unpleasant and unacceptable, are a business expense, and that it is the employer's responsibility to identify the responsible party and take action against that person.

If what the company is doing is legal, would it also be reasonable to expect management to help pay for the losses, since they also were working in the store when the shortages occurred?

--P.L., Oxnard

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A: Under California law, an employer is not permitted to require employees to pay for cash shortages resulting from ordinary negligence.

An employer may deduct a cash shortage from an employee's pay only if it can prove that the employee was directly responsible and that the shortage was the result of dishonesty or extreme carelessness.

But an employer may discipline an employee who is directly responsible for a cash loss, so long as the discipline does not involve a pay deduction or financial penalty. Reprimands, suspensions or termination would all be permissible forms of discipline.

In addition, an employer can discipline a manager for shortages that occur in the department or shift supervised by the manager, even though the manager was not personally responsible for the shortage. Again, the discipline cannot involve a financial penalty.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

Mandatory Time Clock Is Legal

Q: The company I work for requires all employees to punch a time clock, regardless of whether they are paid hourly or are salaried employees.

Is this requirement legal for salaried employees? Would the company be able to fire an employee who refused to use the time clock?

--D.M., Los Angeles

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A: There is no law prohibiting an employer from requiring its salaried employees to punch a time clock. An employee who refuses to comply can be discharged for cause.

--Deborah C. Saxe

Management attorney

Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe

Doctor Is Upset by All the Gossip

Q: I am an M.D. and a chief of staff at a community hospital. I very much like to keep my working life and my personal life separate, and I don't care much for people at work prying into my private life.

The trouble is that the staff is always talking about me and gossiping and trying to guess about what's going on in my personal life. (Actually, I'm a workaholic and don't have much of a personal life.)

What can I do to get them to stop talking about me?

--J.K., Arcadia

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A: Be upfront with them. Tell them that you don't appreciate their talking behind your back or starting rumors. But you should realize that your apparent secretiveness about your private life may actually be fueling their curiosity. Although you certainly have the right to your privacy, try opening up a bit and telling colleagues about some of your after-work activities.

Maybe when they find out how "ordinary" your personal life is, they'll stop making one up for you.

--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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