|By Harry Wessel, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 22, 2007 - --Question: My niece, who is in her early 20s, worked for a hotel, serving drinks to patrons attending parties and conventions there. Although state law requires those serving alcohol to go through training, she received none, perhaps because her work site was the hotel lobby instead of a restaurant or bar.
After a number of months on the job, she was arrested in a sting operation for serving beer to an underage patron. The hotel's management acknowledged her lack of training and said they would back her up, but we already have spent hundreds of dollars on attorney fees, and she has since lost her job with the hotel.
Doesn't the hotel have a legal obligation to pay all her costs and help clear her name, since they were the ones who broke the law?
Answer: Corporations have a legal obligation to pay for the defense of employees who are successful in defending criminal charges against them relating to their jobs, said Tracy Ellerson, a labor-and-employment lawyer with Baker & Hostetler in Orlando.
Many corporations have internal policies that would obligate them to advance the cost of the defense, Ellerson said, although such policies usually require the advance to be paid back if the employee is found to have violated criminal law.
The situation for your niece is more complicated, Ellerson said, since she is also a potential witness against the hotel if it is cited for failing to adequately train employees who serve alcohol. Even if she is convicted, the company may want to reimburse her defense costs because of its failure to train her. If it doesn't reimburse her, she could seek full reimbursement with a lawsuit against the hotel.
Harry Wessel can be reached at 407-420-5506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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