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Employers Have Discretion in Determining Workweek

March 04, 2001

Q: Can an employer, without notice or discussion, demand that an employee begin working weekends and not grant time off for periods of as long as 12 days?

--J.J., Dana Point

A: Employers generally can require an employee to work as long as requested or face termination, as long as no laws are violated. For example, unless an employee is exempt from overtime rules, it would be improper to make an employee work without paying appropriate overtime compensation on a timely basis.

If the employer made promises regarding time off, it might be in breach of those promises to unilaterally change those schedules without notice or discussion.

Most employees are entitled to at least one day off in a seven-day workweek. However, those rest days may be accumulated when the nature of the employment reasonably requires the employee to work seven or more consecutive days. In these instances, the employee still must receive the equivalent of one day off per seven working days during each calendar month.

The mandatory time off does not apply to certain jobs involving emergencies, agricultural work or work performed in the protection of life or property. Employees also aren't covered if they work no more than 30 hours in a workweek or no more than six hours a day.

There also are limits on the number of hours that some employees, such as minors, can work in a week.

If you believe that your employer is not in compliance with these rules, you should complain about it. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you.

--Don D. Sessions

Employee rights attorney

Mission Viejo

Employees Must Be Paid for Actual Hours Worked

Q: I have some hourly employees who regularly come in well before their shift time and punch in, then sometimes punch out well beyond the end of their regular shifts. Am I required to pay them from the time they punch in until they punch out, or just their actual shift? --P.B., Camarillo

A: Under state and federal laws, employers must pay nonexempt employees for all time actually worked. Therefore, your company can disregard early and late punching in and out if the employees were not actually performing work before or after their scheduled shifts.

Employers also have a legal obligation to maintain accurate time records. If the employees' time cards do not show their true starting and quitting times, the correct times should be noted on the time cards, and the employees should be asked to sign or initial the notation.

If the employees actually performed work before or after their official shifts, they would be entitled to be paid for the time they worked. But they can also be disciplined if they violated an established work rule prohibiting unauthorized overtime.

--Joseph L. Paller Jr.

Union, employee attorney

Gilbert & Sackman

Employees Should Be Reimbursed for Expenses

Q: Is an employer responsible for paying mileage when his employee travels from his own home office in his own car to the client's home to render services? The employer has no office for the employees.

--A.W., Orange

A: Yes. Employers have an obligation to reimburse employees for any expenses that they reasonably incur in performing duties for their employer. That includes the obligation to pay mileage to employees when they use their vehicles for company business.

--Michael A. Hood

Employment law attorney

Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker

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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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