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Cigar-smoking boss faces fines

DEAR CARRIE: We work for a small company owned by a man who smokes cigars constantly in the office. Some of us have asked him several times to put out the cigars. He thinks he solves the problem by closing his office door. But the smoke seeps out. Now he doesn't even bother to close the door because the continued complaints have ticked him off.

The board of health came in one day because someone filed an anonymous complaint. They fined him $500. The next day he was at it again. The office situation is serious. One of the women is a breast cancer survivor who now has bone cancer.

I e-mailed the owner an article about the risks of second-hand smoke, without mentioning my co-worker's problem. The woman is afraid she'll be fired if she speaks up. I have just found out I am pregnant. My office is next to the owner's, and the smoke comes through the ceiling. I am afraid he won't stop. I would love to leave, but no one will hire me now because I am pregnant.

What can I do? If he won't stop, can I quit and collect unemployment? - Close and a Cigar

DEAR CLOSE: One thing you might consider is speaking with the company's attorney, if it has one.

Attorney Jeffrey M. Schlossberg, who represents employers, said he would tell your boss to put the cigar out. "Naturally, we would urge any client of ours to cease any conduct that could be considered a violation," said Schlossberg, a partner at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek in Uniondale.

He said New York State and Nassau and Suffolk counties have laws prohibiting smoking in most workplaces. While you're aware of the fines, your boss should be reminded. So put a copy of this column on his desk. Nassau's anti-smoking law provides for fines of up to $250 per day for the violations, Schlossberg said. Suffolk's law provides for first-time fines of up to $1,000. The fines rise for subsequent violations. The state's Clean Indoor Air Act provides for penalties of up to $2,000 per violation.

"Thus, the recalcitrant business owner faces stiff penalties for continued non-compliance," Schlossberg said.

If your boss refuses to comply with smoking laws, you might also want to talk with a personal injury attorney. It's a risky move, because you could lose your job. But if that happened, the boss could also face an additional charge of retaliation. As for your question about unemployment: Generally, if you quit a job, you don't qualify for unemployment benefits. You could claim a safety issue, but that might be tough to prove.

DEAR CARRIE: Don't federal labor laws require certain companies to pay time and a half if you work more than eight hours a day? Our company doesn't pay overtime, even if you work more than five extra hours in a single day. That doesn't seem fair. - Feeling Underpaid

DEAR FEELING: The lack of extra pay on a daily basis may not seem fair, but it's most likely legal. Federal laws allow companies to calculate and pay overtime by the week, not the day. So if you qualify for overtime, that premium pay would kick in after you work more than 40 hours in a week. Some companies offer more generous compensation and pay employees for overtime on a daily basis; employers can always offer more than the law mandates, but not less.

Carrie Mason-Draffen welcomes workplace questions, though she cannot respond to every query. Some may be edited for length and clarity. Contact her with your questions at 631-843-2450, or e-mail her at carrie Send a letter to Dear Help Wanted, Business Desk, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4250. Your name and number won't be published.

Source: Newsday