Joe from San Francisco writes: My wife and I learned of a great opportunity to work in a restaurant in San Francisco. We were promised “good wages” and we were excited to move to from the Philippines and start a new life in America. When we arrived in San Francisco two years ago, we were required to and continue to work over twelve hours a day and not allowed to take breaks. We also work 6 days a week. Our employer told us that we owed a debt and he began deducting various items from our wages such as transportation, interest or fines, and charges for bad behavior. We ended up with almost no salary for the hours we worked. We were also threatened with our visas having expired and being in the United States “illegally.” My employer even took our passports away. We were threatened that if we tried to leave our employer and go back to the Philippines, something bad would happen to our family there. We confided in a friend who told us that she believed that we are victims of human trafficking. What can we do? We feel trapped and do not know if we have rights.
Samantha from Oakland writes: Since 2016, I have been working full-time for a small business in Oakland. I am pregnant with an expected due date of April 2018. When I spoke to the owner about my leave of absence after the birth of my baby, she said that because she only employs 30 employees, I would only be entitled to a 6 or 8 week leave of absence, depending on how my baby is delivered. Is that correct? I thought I would get another 12 weeks off for baby bonding? Will my job be protected if I take this much time off? I am also concerned about my health insurance. Does my employer have to continue making payments during my leave?
Today’s question comes from Janet M. in South San Francisco who asks: “I work for a large contracting firm that does business with the State and other large businesses doing civil engineering and building projects. I am not management and I am union member. I have developed a condition known Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which affects my breathing. Some of the jobs that we work on have a lot of dust and others use chemical adhesives which make it difficult for me to breath. My job doesn’t involve doing any of the work that is directly involved with these irritants; but, I am occasionally required to go onto job sites where I am exposed.
There are 3 other people that do my job too and I am the second most senior. They could do some job shifting that would allow me to pick up part of my co-worker’s responsibilities, and they mine, so I would not be exposed to these triggers. My doctor recommended I ask for this change in my job, so I asked my supervisor who said no. When I asked her if I could then go home sick when I have a COPD attack she said no. She is mad at me because I have had to take afternoons off when I am exposed to these conditions as it is difficult for me to breath.
She says that I have exceeded the number of absences which are allowed under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and if I miss another day of work she is going to move to have me terminated for “job abandonment.” I said I was going to go to an attorney and she said that I was bound under my union’s CBA agreement to use the administrative process set forth in the CBA. My Union Rep is of no help and says that they aren’t going to file a grievance unless and until I am fired. This isn’t fair. What rights do I have?”
This week’s question comes from Sharon H in Santa Rosa: “I am in the midst of a job search and I’m often asked for a salary history. As a woman, I feel uncomfortable with this question, as it seems to place me at an immediate disadvantage when negotiating my salary, especially in competing with male candidates. Are potential employers allowed to ask me that?”
This week’s question comes from Trish W in West Portal who asks; “I am pregnant and have never been in a situation where I have had to ask for any accommodation or time off for injury. I am having bad morning sickness but I go into work anyways so I don’t get in trouble. What are my rights, how much time can I take off, when can I take it off.”
This week’s question comes from Tina S. in Noe Valley who asks: “I think that I am being paid less than the 2 men who are doing my same job. I work in Menlo Park and there is a lot of talk about gender equality but I don’t think it is being put into practice at my current job. We all have MBA’s and started at the same time. One of the men is my same class but the other worked in finance before getting his MBA. What is the status of the law and what can I do to find out if I am being discriminated against.”
JJ writes: “Dear Mr. Dolan: I just started a new job and they made me sign an arbitration agreement. Is that okay- what does it mean?”
Dear J.J: As you have discovered, more and more often employers are requiring employees to sign arbitration agreements as part of an offer of employment. While the arbitration agreement is often mixed in with a stack of other new-hire paperwork, it is much more sinister than most of the other documents employees are asked to sign.
Kathy from San Francisco writes: “I started working part-time for a small tech start-up in San Francisco in February this year. Last Wednesday, my five-year-old son came down with the stomach flu so I e-mailed my supervisor that evening that that I would not be working my shifts Thursday, and possibly Friday to take care of my sick child. When I returned to work on Monday, my supervisor told me that I should not be taking “so much” time off. I was confused by his statement because I have not taken any sick days since starting this job and just assumed that I had some available. I checked my paystub to confirm how much paid sick leave I have accrued but it did not have that information. I have my six-month performance review coming up. Should I be worried that taking a couple of days off to take care of my sick child will affect it?
Adam from Mission Bay writes, “Chris, my husband Jeff was hit by a car while crossing the street near our condo. Jeff was in the crosswalk and suffered a fractured leg and a concussion. I did not have any PTO at work. I took off a week anyways to care for Jeff after he was released from the hospital.
My manager was upset with me for not reporting to work. He said he couldn’t get coverage for my shifts and fired me the day I returned to the job. I had emailed my manager that I would not be coming into work to care for Jeff. It’s a big company of about 100 people throughout the Bay Area, with about 50 in my division in San Francisco. I have worked for them for two years and never called in sick. Didn’t I have the right to take time off?”