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Boss Is Entitled to Proof of Errands During Work Hours

April 15, 2002

Question: I recently joined a medium-sized company as a full-time, salaried employee.

When employees are away from the office during a work day on personal matters, the company requires us to provide a note or a receipt as proof of where we were.

For example, if I were late for work because I had car trouble, I would be required to show a receipt from the towing company. Otherwise, my absence would be considered unexcused, and after a certain number of these absences, I could be subject to disciplinary action.

I and many co-workers find this policy to be paternalistic at best and an invasion of privacy at worst.

Is my employer legally entitled to know the specifics of my medical appointments, errands and responsibilities outside of work?

--S.M., Los Angeles

Answer: Yes, if you must miss work to attend to them. Employers have a legitimate interest in ensuring that employees attend work regularly and that absences be kept to a minimum. Your employer's policy seems to be an effective means of doing so.

The only legal restriction on your employer's policy is that employees who are eligible for coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act may not be terminated for having too many absences that relate to covered medical conditions. But the act permits employers to require employees to provide medical documentation of absences.

Also, although your employer does not need to know (and probably does not want to know) the specific reasons for doctor visits or the treatment you received, your employer is entitled to receive confirmation that you had a medical appointment that caused you to miss work.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

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Employer Sets Exempt Worker's Schedule

Q: I am a professional, salaried employee whose time is billed to clients. I am expected to work during lunch and after hours, including weekends, as needed, without receiving overtime pay.

Yet my employer insists I report to work by 8:30 a.m. each morning, and stay at my desk until 5:30 p.m. each night. If I am late to work or leave early, can I legally be penalized?

--D.W., Pasadena

A: As an exempt, professional employee, you are entitled to be paid a salary that does not vary with the quantity or quality of the work you perform. You are not entitled to overtime pay when you work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.

By the same token, your salary cannot be docked or reduced if you arrive for work late or leave early.

But the law permits employers to set an exempt employee's work schedule. Thus, although your employer cannot dock your pay, your employer can legally discipline you, or even fire you, for tardiness or for leaving work early.

--Joseph L. Paller Jr.

Union, employee attorney

Gilbert & Sackman

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Bonuses Can Come in Cash or 401(k)

Q: My former employer was in the habit of giving a cash bonus at the end of the year.

Last year, however, I received part of my bonus in cash, while the rest was deposited into a new profit-sharing program.

I was not consulted about the distribution.

After being laid off because of the slow economy, I was told that my money in the profit-sharing program is subject to the same vesting schedule as employer 401(k) contributions.

Can the company legally subject my bonus to a vesting schedule? The letter the company gave me explaining the bonus distribution plainly stated the full amount as my bonus.

--L.V., Costa Mesa

A: Your employer has the discretion to pay the bonus directly to you or contribute it to a tax-qualified retirement plan on your behalf.

There is no requirement that bonuses be paid in cash to employees or that the employer consult with the employees to determine their preferences.

Furthermore, contributions for the profit-sharing program can be subject to the same vesting schedule as matching employer contributions to your Section 401(k) plan.

--Kirk F. Maldonado

Employee benefits attorney

Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison

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Rights to Overtime Pay Can't Be Signed Away

Q: I just joined a consulting firm that agreed to pay me so much per hour for all hours worked.

Did I sign away my rights to overtime pay by signing that agreement?

--P.S., Los Angeles

A: No one can sign away the right to receive overtime compensation. If you were entitled to overtime compensation before you signed the agreement, you still are.

--Deborah C. Saxe

Management attorney

Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe

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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 www.latimes.com/shoptalk.

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