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Law Requires Employers to Reimburse Workers for On-the-Job Expenses

September 10, 2000

Question: For the last several years I have submitted hundreds of business expenses to my company. The expenses, which range from $100 to as much as $5,000, add up to almost $50,000.

These expenses were approved and show on the books but have not yet been paid. The company has been paying some of them at a rate of $500 a month and has promised to pay the total amount when it receives investment capital.

I have left the company and am tired of the broken promises. What recourse do I have short of a protracted lawsuit?

--R.R., Newport Beach

Answer: An employer is required by state law to reimburse employees for all expenses incurred on the job. Go to your former employer and request, in writing, payment of all your unpaid expenses. If that fails, California's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement offers an alternative to filing a lawsuit for employees who have wage and salary complaints.

Most wage and salary claims have a two-, three- or four-year statute of limitation, so it is important to file a claim as soon as possible.

Many employees file their own complaints with the Labor Standards Enforcement Division, although the process can be confusing and you may want to hire an attorney to assist you.

Retain copies of documents that show your expenses or reimbursements from your former employer. These may become important pieces of evidence.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Mission Viejo

Take Wage Claims to State Agency

Q: I worked as a part-time tax preparer with a small accounting firm during the tax season. After being repeatedly pressured to invent and plug in fake numbers on clients' returns to increase their refunds, and after repeatedly refusing to do so, I decided to quit.

The firm's owner has refused to pay me for the time I worked there. What options do I have? --W.S., Arcadia

A: You can file a claim with the California Department of Industrial Relations for your unpaid wages. You do not need an attorney to do so, and the number of this agency is in the phone book under State of California.

You also should request interest and "waiting time penalties," which would be calculated as your daily wage for every day you were not paid, up to a maximum of 30 days.

Under the facts you have stated you can also file a constructive termination lawsuit against the employer.

To prove this claim you must establish that the employer, by demanding that you engage in illegal behavior, put you in a situation in which you had no option but to resign, and that any reasonable person would have acted the same way.

If you are successful, you could recover not only your out-of-pocket losses but also punitive damages to punish the employer for illegal behavior.

--Diane J. Crumpacker

Management law attorney

Fried, Bird & Crumpacker

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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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