Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: I work for a large bus company that has several yards. When I am assigned to report to one yard, my supervisor sometimes tells me to travel to another yard to work and to use my own car. The company pays my salary for the entire eight-hour shift, but does not pay me for the use of my personal car. Sometimes I have to drive 20 miles to go to another yard. Is this practice legal? — Right Signals?
DEAR RIGHT: It’s legal. The company has to pay you for the time you work, which you indicated was the case. But it doesn’t have to pay you for the wear and tear on your car. Some employers reimburse employees for extra mileage, but it’s not mandatory; so the decision is left to employers.
You can probably write off some of the unreimbursed expenses on your income taxes.
Employees who ask questions like this typically want to know if the boss has to pay them for travel between job sites. The answer is yes. And on that score, your boss seems to be complying with the law.
DEAR CARRIE: My wife wants to know if her employer can legally force her to dip into her vacation time to take off for a religious holiday rather than allow her an unpaid day off, which she prefers. — Heaven Knows
DEAR HEAVEN: The answer is yes, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination statutes in the workplace.
“An employer is not required to provide an employee’s preferred accommodation if there is more than one effective alternative to choose from,” said Kevin J. Berry, who heads the New York District Office in Manhattan.
Regarding your situation Berry concluded, “It appears that the employer has met their responsibility of accommodating the employee’s religious beliefs.”
In general, he said employers shouldn’t dismiss employees’ suggested accommodations out of hand.
“An employer should consider the employee’s proposed method of accommodation, and if it is denied, explain to the employee why his proposed accommodation is not being granted,” Berry said.
He also mentioned a variety of options employers have when they require employees to make up time off for a religious observance.
“An employer may be able to reasonably accommodate an employee by allowing flexible arrival and departure times, floating or optional holidays, flexible work breaks, use of lunch time in exchange for early departure, staggered work hours, and other means to enable an employee to make up time lost due to the observance of religious practices,” he said.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which the EEOC enforces, requires employers to accommodate an employee’s religious needs, unless doing so would cause a hardship.
An accommodation may cause undue hardship, the EEOC’s website says, “if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.”
Title VII applies to companies with at least 15 employees. New York’s human rights laws, which also outlaw religious discrimination in the workplace, cover companies with at least four employees.
For more information contact the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000.