By: Ellen Savage J.D. HR Advisor, CalChamber Labor Law
Employees often employees believe that they are legally entitled to certain benefits or rights at work, but in reality no such law exists.
Cell Phone: Have you noticed employees are suddenly sending a great deal of work time sending text messages or accessing social media websites on their cell phones?
Employers may prohibit employees from bringing cell phones to work entirely or may prohibit any use during working times. Employers may not prohibit cell phone use before or after work or during meal times.
Smoke Breaks: Smokers may think they have a right to more or longer breaks but that is not the case. Employees are entitled to a certain number of 10-minute paid breaks based on the number of hours worked, but during those breaks they may be required to remain on the employer’s premises.
Since smoking indoors in the workplace is generally prohibited and an employer may ban smoking anywhere on the property employees may be limited to smoking only during their meal breaks and only off the property.
Bereavement Leave: What do you do when your receptionist tells you her husband’s great-uncle passed away and she needs to take three day of bereavement leave to go to the out-of-town funeral? No federal or state law gives employees a right to any bereavement leave in any situation, no matter how close a relative has passed away. Most employers do choose to give bereavement leave but each employer may determine what degree of family relation is required to use such leave.
In California if an employer offers bereavement leave for the death of a spouse, the employers must also offer bereavement leave for the death of a registered domestic partner. Both state and federal laws would also require equal treatment for a same-sex spouse.
Choice of Vacation Days: Your busiest month of the year is coming up and an employee tells you he’ll be taking a two-week vacation right in the middle of the that month.
Although the employee may have accrued plenty of vacation time in his vacation bank, he has no legal right to demand to take vacation at any particular time. As an employer you may approve or deny vacation requests based on legitimate business needs.
Be careful not to deny certain vacation request, such as telling a woman who has recently returned from pregnancy disability leave that can’t take a vacation because she already took too much time away from work. That denial may be seen as illegal retaliation on your part and result in a law suit.
Paid Family Leave: One of your employees announces that he needs to take his six weeks of “paid family leave” when his baby is born next month.
The Paid Family Leave program is not a leave program. It is simply a wage replacement program that the state of California requires employees to fund through mandatory payroll deduction.
Paid Family Leave provides wage replacement when an employee takes a leave for baby bonding or to care for an ill family member but it does not give an employee a right to take protected leave.
Unless an employee has a legal right to baby bonding leave under the California Family Rights Act or the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, an employer is not required to give the employee time off.