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Lack of Attendance Policy Needn't Prevent a Firing

May 16, 1999

Q. Where I work, there is no posted or spoken policy regarding absences, arriving late to work or leaving early. In 11 months, I was absent three times, arrived late seven times and left early twice. I have been given a notice saying I must correct the problem or be discharged. What does California state law say?

--D.R., Bell Gardens

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A There isn't a California law requiring an employer to establish a policy regarding absences before firing an employee for excessive absences or tardiness. It doesn't appear from your question that your late arrivals and early departures or your absences were protected because of a disability or a need for family leave.

You should consider yourself fortunate to have received notice and an opportunity to fix the problem.

--Josephine Staton Tucker

Employment law attorney

Morrison & Foerster

Employers' Identity-Fraud Worries

Q. About 10 years ago, I was unemployed and applied for dozens of jobs. I was always asked for my Social Security and driver's license numbers, and I freely gave them. At some point, someone used these numbers to get credit cards and a telephone number in my name. It took me several years and all kinds of headaches to straighten out that mess.

Now I am unemployed again and going through the same application process. I am no longer willing to give these numbers out, especially because many employers insist on making copies of these documents. I explain as politely as possible what happened, why I will provide one of these numbers but not both, and I offer to provide an alternative form of identification.

I expected sympathetic understanding, because everyone these days is aware of identity fraud, but I am met with suspicion and hostility. The employer's response is always the same: "While we can't force you to provide these numbers, your application will be considered incomplete until you decide to do so." How can I protect my privacy?

--S.M., Los Angeles

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A. It is exactly the "identity fraud" you refer to that has caused many employers to insist upon proof of identity from job applicants.

"Credit repair" firms and others are known to provide new names and Social Security numbers to people who wish to escape a poor credit history, or to illegal immigrants who wish to appear legal. Employers have a right to know if a job applicant is using a false identity.

In addition, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 requires that employers verify that new employees are authorized to work in the U.S., and inspection (and copying) of a driver's license and Social Security card is the most common form of verification, but other documents such as a passport may be offered instead.

Verification of an applicant's Social Security and driver's license numbers may be important for additional reasons. Most payroll service firms require a valid Social Security number so that wages paid may be properly reported to the Internal Revenue Service and the Franchise Tax Board.

If the employee is required to drive on the job, an employer must determine whether the employee has a valid driver's license. If an individual hurts someone in an accident and is found to have had a suspended license or poor driving record, the employer who hired the person without checking to see if he or she had a valid license could be subject to substantial liability under the doctrine of negligent hiring.

Your concern about privacy is understandable, but employers are within their rights to refuse to consider you for a job if you fail to provide this information.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

How to Handle the Uncooperative

Q. I am a supervisor of customer service representatives and get along fine with most of the people I supervise. However, one person refuses to follow orders. This person doesn't say "no" to me right away. Instead, he makes a joke out of it and tells me to do it myself. I have tried to get this person to listen, but I have not been successful so far.

I feel as if I'm losing my authority. How can I best deal with this situation?

--B.L., Corona

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A. You need to be direct and assertive with this employee.

The next time you give him an order and he begins to joke, stop him. Let him know that you are serious and that you will not tolerate this type of behavior. You should be prepared to back this up, and be clear on the consequences that will follow his refusal to follow your orders.

If need be, discuss the situation with your supervisor so that you have him or her to back you up.

--Ron Riggio

Director, Kravis Leadership Institute

Claremont McKenna College

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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