Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.

DEAR CARRIE: I recently returned to work after being on short-term disability for about six weeks. I came back to a different job. My original start date with the company before the disability leave was August 2013. So am I legally a new employee with my new start date being the day I returned from disability leave, or does my tenure date back to when I began working at the company? -- Old Employee or New?

DEAR OLD EMPLOYEE: Employers generally determine what constitutes employees' start dates, said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Labor Department. "It is usually left up to them," Miljoner said.

Such dates are less important when determining employees' rights under labor laws. For example, to determine if employees are eligible for time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, one of the things federal regulators look at is not the workers' start dates but rather whether they have worked at the company for at least a year and have logged a minimum of 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months, Miljoner said.

I think it's strange that a six-week leave would be considered a break in service. If you disagree with the reset, you should try to work out a compromise with your employer.

DEAR CARRIE: I read with interest your recent column about a company not paying its employees. My colleagues and I went through a similar situation. As you suggested, we contacted the New York State Labor Department, but we were told that unless we earned minimum wage, it had no interest in helping us recoup our lost wages. We heard the same thing from the U.S. Department of Labor. Do you know of any other routes we can take to go after the chief executive for not paying us? We are talking about at least three months of back wages. -- No Pay

DEAR NO PAY: I spoke with Miljoner of the U.S. Labor Department about this issue. You may have misunderstood something.

The department does give priority to low-wage workers, who are considered the most vulnerable.

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"We try to conciliate those matters right away," Miljoner said.

But the department also investigates situations of higher-wage workers like you when they aren't paid.

You may not get back all the wages you lost. For example, the U.S. Labor Department recovers back wages at the federal minium-wage rate, which is $7.25 an hour. But if you worked more than 40 hours in the weeks you weren't paid, the overtime hours could be recouped at the usual one and one-half times your regular hourly rate.

So give the agencies another chance. Hopefully, you will have better luck.

DEAR READERS: I'd like to share one more response to Premature Goodbye, whose question last month focused on whether she could collect unemployment benefits because her ex-employer dismissed her after she gave a two-week notice. The response is from a lawyer:

"I regret to say I know several people who suffered the same harsh experience. Unfortunately, the work world has changed quite a bit in the last decade. If a young employee or other worker asked for my advice about what to do in this situation, I'd advise them to give one days' notice of termination. That would protect them against the financial risk of losing two weeks' pay. What's good for the goose is good for the gander."


Go to bit.ly/liwageclaim for a state wage-claim form.