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Being paid to change into uniform a matter of law

Dear Carrie: I work in a hospital and have to change into a uniform when I get in. How much time should the hospital allow me to do this? And can it legally ask me to come in early to change and not pay me for that time? Uniform rules?

Dear Uniform: How much time you have to change is between you and the hospital. But whether you must be paid for that time is a matter of law. The answer, however, isn't straightforward.

If you are a nonexempt employee, you have to be paid for the time you work, and that could include changing into a uniform. Nonexempt employees fall outside the executive, administrative, professional and outside-sales categories.

Assuming you are a nonexempt employee, then another test to consider is whether your uniform meets the labor-law definition of a uniform. Your work clothes meet the definition of a uniform if they wouldn't double as street clothing and if they are something you are required to change into at work, said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Department of Labor.

And here's another caveat: If the uniform is a jacket that takes seconds to put on, it wouldn't be considered part of your workday. "If the donning and doffing essentially is an insignificant amount of time, like putting on a blazer, then it can be discounted [unpaid] . . .," he said.

On the other hand, if you take six minutes to dress for work and six minutes to undress at the end of your shift, that adds up to an hour a week. If you are nonexempt, you must be paid for that time. For more information, call the department, 516-338-1890 or 212-264-8185.

Dear Carrie: My daughter works at a discount department store. Although she is often approved to work extra hours to fill in for co-workers, management sends her home early at the end of the week so she doesn't go over 40 hours and qualify for overtime. She typically has 25 hours of work on the schedule but the requests to fill in would take her up to 42 hours if she worked them all. Is this legal? Sked dread

Dear Sked: Well, the company isn't working in your daughter's best interest, but its actions seem legal. As odd as the practice seems to you, it is common, Miljoner said. And perhaps it's common because it's legal. "Employers have the right to control hours worked even if they are doing it to preclude the necessity of having to pay overtime," he said.

On the other hand, a company cannot change a pay week willy-nilly to avoid paying overtime, Miljoner said. So a Sunday to Saturday workweek can't suddenly be changed to a Wednesday to Tuesday workweek to avoid paying overtime. Federal labor law says that overtime-eligible employees must earn at least 1½ times their regular hourly rate.

While this is legal, your daughter should speak to her supervisor. The request may prompt a manager to make the personnel problem work better for everyone. For further information, call 516-338-1890 or 212-264-8185.

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