The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 18, 2013

Watercooler: Can you hear me now?

By Karla L. Miller
Special to The Washington Post

— Q: Occasionally, I read about companies requiring employees to be available by cellphone after hours. I can't afford a cell because I have other financial priorities. I've always taken jobs that are generally 8 to 5, Monday to Friday, and strongly believe that my personal hours are mine. Is filtering out a job candidate for this discriminatory?

A: It might seem intrusive, but employment attorney Elaine Fitch says claiming that this policy violates the rights of a protected group — such as members of a certain race, age, faith or sex — would be a tough sell. As Fitch points out, "almost everyone has a cellphone these days." Even individuals on federal assistance can get help obtaining wireless service through the government's "Lifeline" program (fcc.gov/lifeline).

If cost is your main concern, the right employer might be willing to provide you a phone or partial reimbursement for your own phone.

In some cases, on-call time is considered payable work time. But even if it doesn't qualify as such, being on call is the price many are willing to pay for added responsibility and flexible hours. If you consider any after-hours leash a dealbreaker, you're free to turn down those jobs.

Q: My husband has a treatable form of lymphoma. He will soon begin a new regimen that could cause nausea and fatigue, and will compromise his immune system. He may need to work from home if side effects overwhelm him or there's a bug going around, but his bosses don't "buy into" working from home. They asked him to provide a letter with basic information on his condition, treatment and potential side effects. We would like to understand my husband's privacy and leave rights.

A: If your husband needs time off, look into the Family Medical Leave Act; if he plans to work through treatment, he should be entitled to "reasonable accommodations" under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy (dol.gov/odep) explains what employers and employees can request from each other. It also offers an index of disabilities and a guide to negotiating at askjan.org. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also has a wealth of information about the ADA: http://eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm.

The bosses can ask for limited medical information — and can even deny accommodations that would create an "undue hardship" for them. Here's hoping they'll choose the humane approach.

Again, thanks to Elaine Fitch, of the Washington-based Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman and Fitch employment law firm.

Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.