Good afternoon Kate,
Under CA labor laws, as a salary exempt employee, if you work at all in any given week, you mast be paid for the full week, even if you only work a short time from home---so long as you are doing wok for the employer.
If you are absent from work a full day for personal reasons, and not out sick, and you do not have PTO/vacation time accrued, the employer may deduct from your salary for that day.
If you employer does not have a bone fide sick leave plan, then they may not deduct any salary in a week that you work at least part of one day. If there is a bone fide sick leave policy, and you have not accrued sick leave yet, or you have no saved sick leave, then the employer may deduct for a complete day of absence.
You asked: Also, if I am checking in or working even for an hour of the day as a salaried employee, can they count the whole day as PTO? No they cannot.
Neither can they deduct from a present paycheck for you having missed a day in a previous pay period---even if that missed day is legal to dock you for.
You may actually sue the employer in court and recover your wages. Additionally, if you sue in court, under federal laws (FLSA), you are also entitled to seek what is called Liquidated damages. Liquidated damages is equal to the amount of back wages that they owe you and must be paid in addition to the wages themselves---so you essentially get double the wages owed you in the claim based on their willful failure to pay you. Additionally, you will be entitled to be awarded costs of the court as well as your attorney fees incurred in filing suit and litigating it against your employer. http://labor-employment-law.lawyers.com/wage-and-hour-law/Liquidated-Damages-and-FLSA-Claims.html
A recent law signed by the CA Governor, allows CA employees to seek liquidated damages when making a claim to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), just as they could if suing in court initially. So in CA whether you make a claim to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, or file an action in court on your own, you may seek liquidated damages. Here is a link to an article on the change---good for CA employees, but bad for CA employers: http://www.shawvalenza.com/publications.php?id=343
The award of liquidated damages is mandatory unless employer shows that (A) act or omission giving rise to violation was in good faith and (B) the employer had reasonable grounds for believing that act or omission was not a violation of 29 U.S.C.A. § 216(b). This is a very difficult standard for the employer to meet.
Here is an excellent article which deals with pursuing an FLSA claim---which you may do in either state court or federal court. Do take the time to review it:
Here is an article you might want to share with your employer, before you choose to either sue them or to file a wage claim with the Department of Labor: http://blog.griegolaw.com/2007/04/02/do-i-have-to-pay-my-exempt-employees-if-they-are-sick/
You may reply back to me using the Continue the Conversation or Reply to Expert link and I will be happy to continue to assist you until I am able to address your concerns, to your satisfaction.
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I wish you the best in 2013,