Part-time worker can do little about rise in hours

CAN THEY DO THAT? / WORKPLACE ADVICE

August 24, 2005|By Carrie Mason-Draffen

Q. Can a company require a part-time person to work full-time as needed? I signed on to work 25 hours per week, but lately my employer has required me to work full-time. Yet I still earn the 75 percent part-time rate for vacations and holidays. The company isn't sympathetic. Do I have any legal recourse?

A. Unless an employment agreement says otherwise, your company generally can require you to work any number of hours, said Jeffrey M. Schlossberg, a lawyer at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek PC in Uniondale, N.Y.

But the good thing is that if you're an hourly employee, you have to be paid for all the hours you work and paid overtime when you work more than 40 hours in a week.

But if you're exempt from overtime, the company can legally pay you a fixed salary each week yet require you to work as long as necessary, Schlossberg said. As for medical benefits, you might be able to level the playing field because the number of hours worked generally governs an employee's eligibility for coverage, Schlossberg said.

Q: A longtime employee was injured in a non-work-related automobile accident. After her paid leave is exhausted, how long do we have to hold her job open? And how long do we have to pay health benefits? It's a burden for a six-employee company.

A: How long you pay for the leave will depend on your company's practices.

"Paying an employee while out for an injury is a matter of company policy," attorney Schlossberg said.

As for how much leave you should grant the employee, that answer is less straightforward.

Your company is too small to come under the jurisdiction of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives eligible employees at companies with at least 50 employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or deal with a serious illness. But other state and federal laws may require the company to extend the employee a "reasonable accommodation," Schlossberg said. "Time away from work - even without pay - generally is recognized as a reasonable accommodation," he said.

An employer can deny or limit a reasonable accommodation if the company can prove that the special arrangement would cause its business an "undue hardship," Schlossberg said.

Carrie Mason-Draffen is a columnist for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail her at yourmoney @tribune.com.

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