Help Wanted: No law against a sneaky layoff
Carrie Mason-DraffenCarrie Mason-Draffen
Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: A cousin who worked for an auto repair shop for more than 25 years was told that the shop was closing because of IRS actions. Eight employees were working there, and all were told the same thing. But the next day, the manager called three employees back to work. The day after that he asked four employees to return. That left just my cousin. His brother, who still works there, said the manager has advised my cousin to look for another job. We speculate that the IRS story is not true; otherwise the shop wouldn't have remained open, and the workers wouldn't have been called back so quickly. We think the business has been sold. That might explain why the former owner-manager is now the acting manager. My cousin hasn't yet confronted the manager. But it appears that my cousin has been terminated. Should he file for unemployment no matter what? Do you believe he has any legal recourse in this situation? -- Phantom Closing
DEAR PHANTOM: Unfortunately he has little recourse, even though his dismissal was handled in an underhanded way.
"There is no law against laying off employees in a sneaky, cowardly way," said employment attorney Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan. "There is also no law that requires an employer to rehire an employee after a business reorganization."
But the shop's action would be illegal, Kass aid, if your cousin was singled out because of such things as his age, race, religion or disability, or if the manager breached a union or employment contract.
Applying for unemployment seems to be your cousin's best bet.
"He should definitely apply for unemployment insurance benefits," Kass said.
He can apply online at http://bit.ly/1cU5sYE, or he can call the state Labor Department's unemployment claims center at 888-209-8124.
DEAR CARRIE: I work for an auto parts company that occasionally requires us to travel to New Jersey for meetings. I'm an hourly employee, and I was told that the company does not have to reimburse us for mileage, even though we have to use our own cars. Is this legal? Also, someone told me that if the company requires us to wear a uniform, we are entitled to a laundry allowance. Is this true? -- Uniform Query
DEAR UNIFORM: Let's look at mileage first. Companies aren't required to reimburse employees for mileage when they travel to meetings. But employees who don't receive reimbursements can write off some of the travel expenses on their taxes. For more on mileage reimbursement and business travel go to http://1.usa.gov/1iHCcga.
As for the uniform, here's the gist of state law: If a company requires employees to wear something that is truly a uniform, such as a clothing with a company logo, then the employer must purchase the uniforms and pay for their maintenance or reimburse employees for those charges.
The purpose is to prevent such costs from lowering employees' wages below minimum wage, which is $8 an hour in New York.
If employers opt not to pay for the weekly maintenance of uniforms, then state law requires them to pay employees an additional designated amount each week to cover that cost. For example, employees who work more than 30 hours a week must receive an additional $9.95 a week to cover uniform maintenance costs.
It's important to note that when employers pay workers substantially above the $8-an-hour minimum, state law allows those companies to use the amount exceeding the minimum to help defray the costs of the maintenance payment.
"Depending on the amount above minimum wage that an employer pays . . . there may be no need to pay the uniform maintenance allowance for that week," the department said.
For more on uniforms and employers' responsibility under state labor law go to http://bit.ly/MGaKkq.