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Help Wanted: Company, not worker, owes for red-light icket

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DEAR CARRIE: I received a red-light camera ticket for an incident that happened while I was driving the company van during business hours. The $80 ticket says I didn’t come to a full stop before turning right on red. Who is responsible for paying, my employer or me? I gave my employer money to cover the ticket. But now I am wondering if I had to by law.

— Who Pays?

DEAR WHO PAYS: I turned to an employment attorney for help with this one. His answer surprised me and will delight you. Since such tickets generally go to the owner of the vehicle, the question in this case becomes: “Can the employer then require the employee to reimburse the company?” The answer is “no,” said Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in New York.

“New York labor law makes it unlawful for an employer to require an employee to pay reimbursement for expenses caused by the employee’s mistakes,” Kass said. “If the police had given the ticket directly to the employee, there wouldn’t have been an issue about the employer charging the employee for it, because the employer wouldn’t have had an expense to be reimbursed for.”

New York state labor law does allow for a voluntary payment in this instance, as you made. But the department might question how freely the payment was made.

“A truly voluntary payment by the employee would be OK, but the Department of Labor might be skeptical that a payment like that is truly voluntary,” Kass said.

Now a speeding ticket is a different matter.

“If the ticket were for speeding rather than a red-light camera, then the ticket would have gone to the employee, not the owner of the vehicle,” Kass said. “In that case the employee would have no right to demand reimbursement from the employer.”

Even when you aren’t liable for paying the ticket, your employer could legally fire you because of the infraction.

“Although the employer cannot require reimbursement,” Kass said, “it can take disciplinary action against the employee, such as imposing a suspension, giving a poor evaluation or even firing the employee.”

DEAR READERS: Last week’s question from the beleaguered wife whose overworked hubby had to take on Saturday duties prompted a few follow-up questions. In that column the wife wanted know if her husband could be fired for refusing to work the extra day because of his health problems and elder-care responsibilities. The answer was a general “yes.” Here are two queries I received:

DEAR CARRIE: Regarding your response to “Overworked Hubby,” what if the employee refused the Saturday work because of religious beliefs? I am a Sabbath observer, for example, and I believe it would be religious discrimination to fire me for refusing to work on Saturday. Is that correct?

— Religious Exemption?

DEAR RELIGIOUS: You are right. The company would have to consider a Saturday accommodation for you. Your employer could refuse only if it could substantiate that accommodating you would prove a hardship.

DEAR CARRIE: It was mentioned in the article that the husband had his weekend elder-care responsibilities. What would stop him from using FMLA for some Saturdays?

— FMLA Applies?

DEAR FMLA: If the elderly parent is suffering from a “serious health condition,” the husband might qualify for a leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. A parent with a serious medical condition includes those unable to tend to such things as his or her basic medical or hygienic needs.

Carrie Mason-Draffen is a columnist for Newsday and the author of “151 Quick Ideas to Deal With Difficult People.” Readers may send her email at carrie.draffen@newsday.com.

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