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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

No redress for bad investment in ex-boss' friend

DEAR CARRIE: I  worked for a small technology company. The owner persuaded me to invest $10,000 in his friend's music download Web site. He constantly told me his friend was in talks with TV or advertising executives.

I wondered why his friend needed money if he had so much access. But I invested anyway. Turns out my boss probably exaggerated what was going on. A month after I made my investment, I was let go. And the owner's friend declared bankruptcy. So I haven't been able to recoup my money. It seems as if they set me up. Do I have any recourse? -- Office Swindle?

DEAR OFFICE: Your tale of woe involves whether you have redress on two issues: regarding the loan or your termination.

You'll most likely have to file a private breach of contract lawsuit regarding the loan because the issue -- lending money to the boss' friend -- isn't a labor law issue.

That's according to Ellen R. Storch, counsel at Kaufman Dolowich Voluck & Gonzo in Woodbury, who says: "While this situation occurred in an employment context, any cause of action against the employer or the owner's friend related to the investment would be rooted in tort or contract [law], just as it would be if the investment opportunity became known through a friend -- rather than a boss."

As for your termination, the boss' action, however questionable, may be legal unless it violated an employment or other union contract that would have prohibited the dismissal.

Based on the facts you presented, Storch says, "there does not appear to be any cause of action arising out of the termination, which -- unless an employment agreement stated otherwise -- was at will, meaning that an employee can be terminated at any time for any reason, other than those prohibited by law, or no reason at all." 

DEAR CARRIE: I had neck surgery in October for herniated discs after waking up with tremendous pain in my right arm. I am currently on disability. I am a salaried employee and I also receive commissions. My questions are: Does my company have to hold my position?

If so, must the company offer me the same salary? Can my employer lay me off if my position has been filled and would I be entitled to unemployment if this occurs? -- Painful Queries

DEAR PAINFUL: Any rights you are entitled to while on disability, depend on the law that covers your time off.

If you're out under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to tend to a personal or family medical emergency, then you should be able to return to the same job or an equivalent one at the same pay, Storch says.

If your condition is a disability covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act, or a state law equivalent, your employer may be obligated to accommodate your need for an "indefinite leave," and allow your to return to your old job when -- and if -- you are qualified to do so. But such an accommodation would only be required if it would not cause the employer an "undue burden," Storch said.

Should your employer fire you, you could be eligible for unemployment benefits as long as you are physically able to perform some work, she said.

"If he is not able to work, he cannot collect unemployment benefits, but may be able to continue receiving disability benefits," Storch said.

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