Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: I have been employed at a small corporation for the past 10 years. I originally worked five days a week, but three years ago I was allowed to cut back to a Monday-through-Thursday schedule. Every summer, our company gives a party for employees. The office closes that day, which is usually a Friday. The outing takes place at an off-site location and generally lasts from noon to 4 p.m. Employees are paid for the day if they attend. If they don't show up, they have to use a personal or vacation day to get paid for the day.
Here's the unfair part: The payroll department doesn't feel I should be paid for attending because the office is closed. But people who work Fridays lose a vacation day if they don't attend; so I feel that the day of the party is really a work day and that I should be paid for attending. I'm an hourly employee, and if I went in to work for four hours on a Friday I would be paid. Is payroll correct in saying I am not entitled to pay if I attend? -- Party Poopers
DEAR PARTY: This unusual way of creating a captive audience for a party is probably legal. The heart of the issue here isn't whether you should be paid for working, but whether you should be paid for partying. Labor laws don't deal with the latter. So if the company wants to pay people to party, it can decide who gets paid. I am not saying it's fair, but it sounds legal. You mentioned that you are hourly, which generally means nonexempt. That means that you have to be paid only for the hours you work.
I think the company's approach is odd. If you're going to pay some employees to party, why not pay them all? On the other hand, your colleagues who work on Fridays might feel miffed if you got paid since you have Fridays off. It's a tough call, and unfortunately you lost out.
DEAR CARRIE: Our company is moving to a new system for handing out work orders that includes time slips that have to be filled out and turned in by a certain time. This is a dramatic change for us because we have always had a tolerant policy about time. We are all exempt employees and just focused on getting the job done on time. Since we adopted the new system, the managers have said we have to meet the deadline for time slips or we will not be paid. When I questioned one of the owners about the legality of not paying employees, he said, "Well maybe I'll just hold it a couple of days until a time slip is produced." It this legal? -- Time and Tide
DEAR TIME: If your boss acts on that threat he will violate labor laws.
Here's what he can legally do: He can require employees to fulfill administrative processes, such as submitting time slips, and he can discipline workers who shirk those duties, said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Department of Labor.
"But they can't not pay someone for time worked," he said. "That applies whether or not the person is exempt."
While an exempt employee, who is exempt from overtime and even minimum wage, need not be paid for all hours worked and need not have a daily record of hours kept, that all changes if the company doesn't pay them or withholds their pay, Miljoner said.
Exempt employees in New York have to be paid at least $600 a week unless they take off full days for personal reasons. (It's $455 under federal law, but the higher state amount prevails.) When an employer withholds their pay, the exemption is lost, Miljoner said. And that puts the company on the hook for minimum wage and overtime for those employees.
For more on salary requirements for exempt employees, visit http://1.usa.gov/1qEpqDu.