DEAR CARRIE: I lost my job as a manager after 14 years. I put in a claim for unemployment benefits and started receiving them. In the meantime a former co-worker told me about a restaurant job. I called and was hired over the phone. I jumped right in even though I wasn't sure if the job was for me. Well, two weeks into the job I was told that I wasn't cutting it. I felt uneasy after that and decided to give a two weeks notice. But the owners said the two-week notice wasn't necessary and told me not to come in anymore. When I reapplied for unemployment benefits, the state Labor Department told me I was ineligible because I had quit the job without a good cause. Do I have any recourse? -- I Quit
DEAR I QUIT: Generally if you quit a job, you don't qualify for unemployment benefits. Of course there are exceptions, such as an employee who quits because a company is unable to pay him or her.
You should have toughed it out at the restaurant because if you had been fired because you were unable to perform the work well, you might have been able to qualify for benefits. Here is what the Labor Department's website says on that note: "You may be eligible for benefits if your employer discharged or fired you because you could not meet their performance or production standards or their qualifications for the job."
One loose end you didn't mention is your forced, two-week premature departure from the restaurant after you gave notice. I think it's worth trying to collect benefits for those two unexpected weeks of unemployment.
DEAR CARRIE: For 23 years, I have worked at a local hospital that is now experiencing some financial difficulties. Management is freezing our pensions because the hospital can no longer afford to contribute to our accounts. But the managers insist we won't lose our pensions. I don't buy that because I have heard of employees who lost their retirement benefits after their employers filed for bankruptcy. Should I be worried? -- Pension Tension
DEAR PENSION: Help Wanted can put your mind at ease. No matter the hospital's fate, your pension will most likely be safe because of public safety nets. The biggest is the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency that insures most defined-benefit plans in this country. Defined-benefit plans pay benefits based on a person's salary and years of services.
"PBGC provides a safety net for people covered by plans offered in the private sector," an agency spokesman said. "If a company were to go bankrupt and couldn't afford to maintain its pension plan, PBGC would step in and pay benefits for the company's workers and retirees."
The current maximum guaranteed benefit for a retiree at age 65 is about $59,320 a year.
"Nearly 85 percent of the people who receive a benefit from the agency receive their full retirement payment," the spokesman said.
The agency doesn't insure defined-benefit plans sponsored by federal, state and local governments. But those pensions are safe. The agency also doesn't insure some church and fraternal-organization plans, or professional service plans, such as plans for lawyers and doctors, with fewer than 25 active participants. But your plan doesn't seem to fall into any of those latter categories.
Though this doesn't apply to you, it's worth mentioning that the PBGC also does not insure defined-contribution plans, such as profit-sharing or 401(k) plans, which are retirement plans that don't promise specific benefit amounts.
To find out if the PBGC insures your plan call 800-400-7242.