Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: My boss calls us in for meetings on our days off and insists he only has to pay us for the hour that the meeting lasts. I thought the law says we must get paid for at least three hours in that situation. Am I correct? We are all hourly employees and work for a large corporation. -- Short Changed?
DEAR SHORT: Four is the magic number of hours for "call-in pay," or the minimum amount of pay hourly employees may be entitled to under state law for showing up for work. But it's not easy to meet the requirements, especially if you earn more than the state's $8-an-hour minimum wage.
"New York law provides for call-in pay in certain situations, but in a way that does not help most employees," said employment attorney Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan.
The general rule is that when an employee reports for work at the request or permission of the employer, he or she is entitled to be paid for at least four hours, Kass said. But the rule has three "big catches," he said.
The first is that the call-in pay is calculated at the minimum wage, not at the employee's regular hourly wage.
The second catch is that no call-in pay is owed if the employee is paid for all the hours "in the regularly scheduled shift." So if the shift was originally scheduled to be only one hour, as in the meeting you were asked to attend on your day off, then call-in pay might not be owed.
"However, the employees can perhaps argue that since their regular shifts are for more than one hour, the one-hour meeting is not a regularly scheduled shift," he said.
The final catch is that compliance with wage and hour laws is calculated on a weekly basis, not a daily basis, he said. So as long as the employee's pay for the week is equal to at least the minimum wage times the number of hours worked, plus the minimum pay for the call-in time, "then the call-in pay regulation will be considered to be satisfied," Kass said.
For example, if an employee works seven hours a day Monday through Friday, and one hour on Saturday, the call-in regulation is satisfied as long as the employee receives at least $312 for that week (36 hours of regular pay plus three hours of call-in pay for Saturday, times the $8-an-hour minimum wage).
"This means that for employees who earn significantly more than the minimum wage, the call-in regulation will not be helpful," Kass said. "If the hourly rate is $9, then in my example the 36 hours of regular pay already gets the employee above the $312 minimum, without any extra payment for call-in pay."
Some union contracts have provisions for call-in pay that are based on the employee's regular hourly rate instead of the minimum wage, he said. And lastly, the rules may also be slightly different in industries where the state Labor Department has issued special regulations, such as the hospitality industry.
DEAR CARRIE: I have worked as a full-time classroom aide since 2001 and am contracted to work 183 days each school year. I do not get paid over the summer. On July 1, I always receive a letter stating that my services will be needed in September. Do I get this letter to prevent me from collecting unemployment over the summer? Or am I legally able to collect unemployment? -- Hot and Broke
DEAR HOT: You are not eligible to collect for the very reason you suspected you weren't. The letter indicates that you have a "reasonable assurance of a similar job in the next school year or term or after the break," to quote the Labor Department's website. As long as you have the promise of work when school resumes, you aren't eligible for unemployment benefits in your off-season.
For more onstate rules regarding call-in pay go to http://on.ny.gov/U6Iuv0. For more on school employees and unemployment-benefits regulations go to http://on.ny.gov/1qR8G9B.