Q and A / HELP WANTED

Q and A

April 27, 2005

Boss shouldn't give out Social Security number

Q: My employer wants me to sign a release form because I do not want dental coverage through their chosen health company. When I asked why I had to sign, they said it was so the dental care provider couldn't be sued if I said I wasn't offered the opportunity. Why should I be forced to sign in order to cover their interests? Why should I give them my Social Security number? Can I be forced to do this?

T.H., Baltimore

A: There is no law in Maryland and most states that prevents an employer from asking for this type of release. It is a common practice for employers to ask for, and retain, a record that an employee declined benefits, to guard against the possibility that an employee might later accuse the employer of failing to offer a benefit. However, you would be justified in questioning the employer about sending your Social Security number, or any other private information, to a dental company that you're not using. There's now a legal trend to limit disclosure of Social Security numbers, so it would be reasonable for you to ask your employer not to send yours to this dental provider.

MICHAEL HAYES

associate professor of law

Q: As an office manager, I have two non-exempt administrators that do excellent work. Half the time, one worker arrives 15 minutes late and doesn't stay past 5 p.m. unless she will be paid overtime. She takes her full hour for lunch. I asked her if it would help to change her hours from 8:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and she said no. Was I wrong in making the offer instead of telling her she needs to change her work hours? Should I tell her when I see that she arrives 15 minutes late that she's required to stay 15 minutes longer the same day? Should I let it go and include this in remarks at her annual evaluations?

M.B., Pimlico

A: It sounds like you're trying to drop hints instead of just telling your employee about the problem you're having as her supervisor. Conflicts between managers and those they supervise don't go away just because you avoid discussing them. Talk to her. Tell her - politely but firmly - that you have noticed that she often arrives late and that this situation creates a problem for you because all employees are expected to work a full eight hours. Ask if there's anything you can do to help her address the problem. The solutions you've proposed in your question might be great, but they might not be solving the problem. Don't let this pass and hold your comments for her annual evaluation. Employees deserve an opportunity to improve; they only get it if you tell them when there are problems. After you've had a direct discussion and allowed time for improvement, it's fair to evaluate her if problems continue. You also can take whatever steps are normal in your workplace when employees miss work (taking the time from their leave, reducing pay, discipline, etc.).

ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE

assistant professor of negotiations and conflict management

University of Baltimore professors answer questions from readers about workplace issues. To submit a question, send it to working@baltsun.com or Working, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278-0001, or fax it to 410-783-2517

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