Help Wanted: Storm pay policy can freeze morale

Commuters dodge snowflakes as they wait on platforms Commuters dodge snowflakes as they wait on platforms at the LIRR station on February 18, 2014, in Mineola. If the office opens late or closes early in bad weather, workers may be required to use vacation time to make a full days pay. But a boss who stays home could hurt morale. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

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

DEAR CARRIE: When our boss opens the office late because of a snowstorm, she tells us to use our own vacation time if we want to get paid for the entire day. If she decides to close early, she tells us the same thing. Sometimes she doesn't make it into the office at all because of bad weather that she says makes driving too risky. Yet, she always requires us to come in, only to send us home shortly afterward and make us use vacation hours to make up the time. Are her actions legal? We are losing vacation days through no fault of our own.

-- Misspent Vacations

MISSPENT VACATIONS: Her actions are legal but may fall short on a moral note. Benefits such as paid time off aren't mandatory. So employers can decide whether to offer them and can set policy on their use.

But the "do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I do" attitude that is evident when your boss is afraid to venture into the office is unfair and bad for morale. If the roads are too dangerous for her, she shouldn't ask workers to risk their lives to come in, only to add insult to injury by sending them home shortly afterward.

 

DEAR CARRIE: My sister just went on long-term disability while battling recurring breast cancer. In the meantime, she turned 66 and started collecting Social Security benefits. Surprisingly, the human resources department at work advises her that her Social Security benefit amount will be deducted from her long-term disability payments. What do long-term disability and Social Security, both of which she has been paying into, have to do with each other? Is this legal? -- Concerned Sister

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DEAR CONCERNED: Unfortunately, it is often legal for a long-term disability insurance company to reduce its monthly payment to workers by monthly amounts they receive from Social Security, said attorney Troy G. Rosasco of Ronkonkoma-based Turley, Redmond, Rosasco & Rosasco, which specializes in disability benefits.

If employees receive their long-term disability benefits under a plan sponsored by a current or former employer, the plan is most likely governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, he said.

This law requires employers to have a plan document called a Summary Plan Description. The provisions of the summary plan usually provide that certain other benefits employees receive at the same time, including Social Security, will offset, or reduce dollar-for-dollar, the amount of long-term disability benefits the insurance company must pay.

For example, suppose an employee becomes disabled and she is entitled to 60 percent of her gross monthly base salary under her employer's long-term disability plan, Rosasco said. Let's say that 60 percent figure is $2,500. If her Social Security payment is $2,000 a month, the long-term disability insurance company has to contribute only the $500 difference for a total of $2,500.

"This often comes as a shock to the employee, because prior to signing up for and paying for the LTD benefit," Rosasco said, "the employer rarely tells the employee about offset provisions, which substantially reduce the value of the LTD benefit to the employee."

He said he has seen many cases in which an employee gets almost no long-term disability benefits from an employer after an offset, despite paying for such protection for many years.

"Because of this," he said, "I believe that all employees, especially lower- to middle-wage employees, should closely examine the provisions of any employer LTD plan for any offset provisions before signing up for and paying for protection that may be minimal at best."

For more on state labor law and paid time off go to http://bit.ly/1fwJRGl.

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