Q. My company, which has more than 300 employees in one location, is stepping up the pressure on workers to carpool by denying us the right to park in its lot. There is no decent place to park within a mile of the place.
Is the company obligated to give us a parking place? If we become injured or sick walking to and from distant parking, would that be covered under workers' compensation?
--J.D., Santa Ana
A. Your employer has no obligation to provide parking to you, so it is legal for your employer to compel you to carpool to use spaces in its parking lot.
If you are injured in transportation to or from your employer's place of business, your injury would not be covered by workers' compensation, which has a "going and coming" rule stating that injuries suffered coming or going to work are not compensable.
--Michael A. Hood
Employment law attorney
Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker
Obstacles to Using Vacation Time
Q. I'm a mid-level manager (exempt status) at an agricultural research company in the Central Valley.
We are allowed to accumulate only as much as three weeks of vacation a year, but my requests to take vacation have been repeatedly denied, in writing. The reason has always been that my department is too busy.
In four years, I've only been allowed to take three days of vacation. And when I don't take all of the vacation allowed, I lose it the next year because there is a three-week ceiling on accrued vacation. The company also will not pay for lost vacation time. Is this legal?
A. It certainly seems unfair for you to be prohibited from accumulating vacation when it is the employer's actions that prevent you from using what you have accrued.
Employers are not required by law to provide vacation, but they must comply with their own rules regarding vacations.
Review the vacation policy in the employee handbook. If the company has clearly given you the right to three weeks of vacation a year, it may not be able to prevent you from accruing it in the next year if the company prevented you from using it.
In all probability, the employer has at least implied in its vacation policy that it will not unnecessarily stand in your way of using it. However, if the policy limits your use of paid vacation time to periods when it is "not too busy" and it's up to the employer to determine those periods, you have to live with that type of loose policy. Paid vacation is not legally required and can be restricted by the employer.
If your employer has intentionally misrepresented its vacation policies, however, you might be able to claim breach of contract or fraud.
You should also attempt to determine whether the company is allowing others in your department to take their vacation time even when the company is busy. If you are being held to a higher standard, is it for an illegal or discriminatory reason? Consider writing to the company's human relations department to explain your situation. You might find its staff willing to cooperate.
--Don D. Sessions
Employee rights attorney
Boundaries of Disability Law
Q. How much access are companies required to provide for handicapped employees?
I have arthritis. The building where I work has two floors, but there is no elevator to the second floor. This requires disabled employees who work on the second floor to climb stairs to get to their area of work.
The building does have wheelchair access to the lobby, the only public area, but that's it.
--I.R., Los Angeles
A. State and federal employment laws require California employers with five or more employees to make a reasonable accommodation for any "otherwise qualified individual with a disability."
A "qualified individual with a disability" is one who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job. A physical impairment such as arthritis is a disability if it substantially limits one or more of the person's major life activities, such as seeing or walking.
If you are a qualified individual with a disability, you can ask your employer to make a reasonable accommodation to permit you to perform the essential functions of your job.
An accommodation is not reasonable if it would impose an undue hardship on the employer--requiring significant difficulty or expense.
Several factors are considered in determining if a proposed accommodation would be an undue hardship. Courts look at such things as the nature and cost of the proposed accommodation, its impact on the business, and the overall financial resources of the employer and the facility involved.
Putting in an elevator to the second floor would be an undue hardship, for instance, if it would make the remaining working space too small to accommodate the work force or if it would be unduly costly considering the employer's financial resources.
--Deborah C. Saxe
Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe