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Two Weeks' Notice Doesn't Guarantee Two Weeks' Pay

May 30, 1999

Q If you give your employer two weeks' notice that you are quitting, is he obligated to pay you for the two weeks?

--T.T., Tustin

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A If you work for those two weeks, you have a right to be paid for them. But unless you have a contract of employment for a specific term, your employer may terminate your employment immediately upon receiving your two weeks' notice. In that case, your employer has no legal obligation to pay you for that period.

Many employers prefer that a resigning employee not remain employed after giving notice, to avoid any potential for sabotage, theft of trade secrets or damage to morale of other employees.

Although employers will sometimes pay a resigning employee for the notice period while not requiring him or her to work during that time, there is no legal requirement for this.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

Salary, Benefits Cut Without Notice

Q. After working as a consultant with a growing company, I became an employee and a minority shareholder. My employment contract specified my salary, benefits (including medical and dental insurance) and reimbursement of business-related expenses.

The first 18 months were fine. Then in July, the company stopped paying health insurance benefits without telling me. I did not learn until two months later that the coverage had been canceled.

In August, the employer cut my salary in half without advance notice. I received a letter with the paycheck, citing cash-flow problems. I was also told the company could not reimburse the outstanding business expenses I had incurred while traveling.

I left the company in September, then learned two months later that a rental-car agency was pursuing a claim against me for a minor accident in a rental car. I was rear-ended while on company business in 1997, but my former employer has informed his insurance agent not to process the claim.

Do I have any recourse against this employer?

--K.J., Los Angeles

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A. It seems that your former employer should qualify for someone's "10 Worst Employers" list.

Companies are not required to offer health insurance to employees, and they are even entitled to terminate it on behalf of their own employees for economic reasons.

However, it is not appropriate for an employer to tell you two months after the date the coverage has been canceled. At the least, it would owe you the cost of premiums it was supposed to have been paying on your behalf for coverage. If you had sustained an injury covered by the insurance, the company's liability would have been much greater.

If the company canceled the insurance, it also may have been responsible for offering you COBRA rights, which allow you to continue insurance for 18 months at your expense. There are significant penalties for failure to inform you of these rights.

It is illegal for an employer to reduce your salary without advance notice. If you performed work at one salary level, your employer can't cut your pay retroactively. An employer must pay business expenses incurred by its employees. The company also should assume liability for the accident that occurred while you were conducting company business.

But the greatest liability the company faces might be a possible claim for wrongful termination for refusing to comply with various laws. You could file a claim for "constructive wrongful termination," in which your resignation would be considered the same thing as if you had been fired improperly.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Mission Viejo

Fired for Failing to Clock Out

Q. After working part-time for nearly a year for a company, I was terminated after leaving the building to pick up breakfast for myself and three other workers.

The termination notice said I failed to punch out on the time clock, a violation of company policy. I did this during my break, however. Up to that point, I had received great reviews and had never been written up for any violations.

Shouldn't I have received a warning first? Do I have a case for wrongful termination?

--D.T., Torrance

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A. Probably not. Unless you can show that your termination violated a public policy of the state--a California law, for example--you will not be able to make a wrongful-termination claim.

However, if your employer has a handbook or a personnel policy, written or unwritten, that the employer uses a system of progressive discipline such as oral or written warnings before terminating employees, you may have a breach-of-contract claim.

I recommend that you review any documents that you have been given concerning your employment to see if they contain such a system. If they do or if you know of other employees who have been provided with oral or written warnings for infractions such as yours, you may wish to consult with an employment attorney to discuss your rights more fully.

--Diane J. Crumpacker

Management law attorney

Fried, Bird & Crumpacker

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