DEAR CARRIE: My son worked full-time in a retail store. He was assigned various shifts. The latest ended at 10 p.m., an hour after the store closed. Right after he gave his two-week notice, the manager began scheduling him to work crazy hours doing dramatically different tasks, such as taking inventory or changing price tags. The first time he worked from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and the second time from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. When my son questioned the hours, the manager responded that my son had indicated “open availability” previously. Was this legal? — Wacky Scheduling
DEAR WACKY: The store was lucky that your son was conscientious and hung around, despite having his schedule upended during his final two weeks of work.
Despite being onerous, the changes were probably legal.
“Unless the reader’s son has an employment contract [either individually or through a union], he is an employee at will,” said employment attorney Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan. “Therefore, the employer can change his schedule at any time — just like the employer can fire him at any time, or reduce his pay.”
Though legal, the manager’s action didn’t demonstrate the best judgment, however.
“It is probably not a great idea for the employer to make life miserable for employees who give two weeks’ notice of resignation,” Kass said. “That will just encourage employees to quit without giving the employer any notice at all.”
But he added, “There is no law against stupidity.”
DEAR CARRIE: I manage a small medical office, and I am salaried. I feel as if I am on call 24/7 because the office phones me on weekends and on my days off with questions.
If the office contacts me throughout the day when I am out on a personal day, would that be considered a real day off or should it be counted as just another workday? Recently I took two days off to go to court to resolve a matter. Despite all the calls I received from the office, my pay was docked for those two days. I am feeling especially put upon because after I took half of a sick day, my boss asked me to subtract that time from my accrued days off. So it looks like I am going to lose paid time off for that half day. But if my boss does that, I feel I should be credited for working when I am taking care of office matters on my days off. — Away at the Office
DEAR AWAY: Your question touches upon two labor law issues.
The first concerns whether you truly take a personal day off when you are fielding many calls from the office. And the second focuses on whether the office can legally deduct from your accrued paid time off for the half sick day you took.
If you receive multiple phone calls to resolve issues on your day off and you wind up putting in the equivalent of a half to full day of work, then your salary shouldn’t be docked for taking a day off for personal reasons.
When it comes to employees like managers, who are exempt from overtime, companies can legally dock their pay in very few instances. One of them is when these workers take a full day off for personal reasons.
But when you are fielding numerous calls from the office, you are essentially working at least part of the day. And your salary cannot be docked for partial days.
Now, if you get one or two calls while taking a personal day, the labor department might not get too excited about minimal contact. But when you receive frequent calls, that is another matter.
Regarding your accrued sick time, your company can legally deduct from that when you take partial days. But it can’t legally dock your pay in that instance.