Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: My son works for a moving company. It maintains that it doesn't have to pay him overtime when he drives out of state once a month, no matter how many extra hours he works. Is that legal? -- Rules of Road?
DEAR RULES: The company can legally forgo paying your son overtime if three criteria are met, according to Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Labor Department.
Your son must work for a motor carrier, that is an employer that provides transportation for compensation. The moving company would certainly fall into that category.
Secondly, he must drive a truck that exceeds 10,000 pounds of "gross vehicle weight," that is, the weight of the vehicle plus the cargo. A loaded cargo van could weigh that much. Third, he must drive interstate routes.
Again, all the criteria must be met to make the lack of overtime pay legal when he works more than 40 hours a week.
"If any of the criteria are not met, the driver must be paid overtime," Miljoner said.
Under federal law, hourly workers generally have to be paid one and one-half times their regular hourly rate for every hour over 40 in a workweek.
Miljoner noted that the exemption applies to overtime, not minimum wage. So the company has to pay your son at least $7.25 an hour.
If you have any doubt about whether the above criteria apply to your son, call the U.S. Department of Labor at 516-338-1890 or 212-264-8185.
DEAR CARRIE: I work in a hospital. I used vacation days to take off for the Jewish holidays. Unfortunately, a colleague wasn't allowed to take off since we didn't have enough staff. Was it legal for our employer to refuse to give her time off for the holidays? -- Legal Denial?
DEAR LEGAL: I put your question to the agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The key issue is whether giving employees time off for religious observances causes an employer an "undue hardship."
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964 requires employers to accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, again, unless doing so would create a hardship, said Elizabeth Grossman, regional attorney in the agency's New York District Office in Manhattan.
"A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his religion," Grossman said.
That includes flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, job reassignments and lateral transfers, she said.
An employer can claim undue hardship and legally refuse to make an accommodation, she said, if that accommodation would cause more than ordinary administrative costs; would diminish efficiency in other jobs; infringe on other employees' job rights or benefits; impair workplace safety, or cause co-workers to take on the accommodated employee's share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work. "If an employer can legitimately establish that providing time off for religious observance would prevent it from operating in an efficient and effective manner, it is likely that its burden in establishing undue hardship would be met," she said.
She noted that Title VII applies to employers with at least 15 employees. New York State's human-rights laws, which have similar requirements for religious accommodation, cover companies with at least four employees.
For more on laws regarding religious accommodations in the workplace, go to http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/religion.cfm. For more on overtime regulations for the trucking industry, go to http://1.usa.gov/SJMP4u.