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Worker Not Responsible for Parking Ticket Caused by Boss

April 29, 2001

Q: My brother is an hourly worker at an Orange County firm that installs cabling. It is a nonunion shop and there is no written employment contract.

I'm concerned about two company pay practices.

First, he was docked $170--half of a traffic citation--after he parked in a marked handicapped stall, as instructed, at a job site so workers would have ready access to the tools and equipment in his vehicle. Can the company require an employee to pay part of the citation?

Second, a shop manager tells him when to report to work. But when he shows up as scheduled, he frequently is told that the company has no work for him. Doesn't the company have an obligation to pay some compensation even when it cancels the work for the day?

--J.R., Huntington Beach

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A: Employers must reimburse employees for all expenses incurred at the direction of the employer or in the course and scope of performing their job duties.

If your brother parked in the handicapped zone at the specific direction of his boss, he should not have to pay any portion of the ticket. On the other hand, employees are not entitled to reimbursement for traffic tickets (for speeding, for example) while driving on business but where the offense that triggered the ticket was not specifically directed by the employer. You are correct that an employer must pay an employee who shows up for work even though no work may be available.

The wage orders of the California Industrial Welfare Commission require that an employee who reports to work and is furnished with less than half his usual day's work must be paid either half his usual work day (up to four hours), or two hours pay, whichever is greater.

Thus, if your brother typically works an eight-hour day, he would be entitled to be paid four hours on days when he shows up but no work is available.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

Employer Has Right to Say No Sitting Down on Job

Q: The company I work for makes refrigerated liquid gas. For five years or more, I have been allowed to sit while the liquid containers fill. About three months ago the supervisor stated he didn't want me sitting down while filling the containers. The only reason he gave was that it bothered him.

I have worked there for more than 25 years, and this is the first time I have encountered such an ordeal. Do I have any recourse?

--E.H., Montclair

A: Normally an employer can require its employees to perform their duties in a specific manner.

Perhaps your boss simply wants to make your job requirements the same as your peers', or wants you to appear more professional to any customers using your services. There may even be safety reasons to have you on your feet and ready for any emergency, especially with flammable substances.

He simply may be bothered if you're sitting in a lounge chair with your legs kicked up, drinking a lemonade, listening to your Walkman for half-hour stretches.

On the other hand, such a requirement may be improper if you have health problems or disabilities that prevent you from standing. Singling you out for some discriminatory reason, such as race, age or sex, also would be illegal.

In singling you out, it's also possible that your boss may be violating express or implied promises of your employer--policies that might be spelled out in an employee handbook. Try to elicit a more elaborate explanation for the requirement. If it still doesn't make sense, appeal to your supervisor, raising the issue of whether he is being reasonable or fair. If you believe that the requirement is in fact illegal, raise your concerns with your employer's human resources department or contact a lawyer.

--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. Recent Shop Talk columns are available at http://www.latimes.com/shoptalk.

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