Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: I work just two days a week as a dental hygienist. Still, at least once a month the office calls to tell me not to come in because business is slow. As a result, my hours have dropped significantly over the last year. And the income loss is becoming a hardship. Can I file an unemployment claim for those days when the office has no work for me? -- Too Underemployed
DEAR UNDEREMPLOYED: When your days are cut, you might qualify if you make less than $405 that week, the maximum weekly unemployment benefit in New York State.
But bear in mind that if you do any work anywhere else on a furloughed day, no matter how little, you wouldn't legally be able to claim unemployment benefits for that day. And the state Labor Department's definition of "work" for unemployment-benefits purposes is broad.
When your company has no work for you, the department would still consider you employed "on any day if you do any type of work, even an hour or less, whether you are self-employed, working on a freelance basis, working for someone else, helping a friend or neighbor, or working in connection with a public office that you hold. It does not matter whether you get paid or not. Even doing minor duties or favors for a business or someone else is considered work."
If you are unsure about whether you qualify, you should file to hear what comes back.
"The person should file a claim for [unemployment benefits] and have his/her eligibility determined," the department said. "We always encourage people to file, even if they're not sure they are eligible."
You should file your claim during your first week of total or partial unemployment, the department said. Otherwise, you may lose benefits. Your benefit amount is based on your weekly earnings, up to a maximum of $405. You also have to meet certain minimums for hours worked and wages earned in the 52-week period that precedes the date of your claim.
You can file a claim online at labor.ny.gov any day of the week. Or you can file by calling the department's telephone claims center toll-free at 888- 209-8124 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
DEAR CARRIE: I am an employee of an agency that provides home-based special-education services to children. I currently work with four students. Can the agency legally withhold my entire paycheck for the month because of a late progress report on one of the students? -- Pay-Less
DEAR PAY-LESS: If withholding your paycheck means that you aren't paid at least twice a month, then the punishment is illegal under state law. State frequency-of-payment laws require most employees to be paid at least twice a month. And that's just for starters. If you are an hourly employee, the lengthy hold could violate both state and federal minimum-wage laws, too, because zero dollars an hour would fall far short of the state's current $8-an-hour minimum wage and the $7.25 federal minimum. And lastly, if you are an exempt employee, meaning you are a manager or need a degree for your job, skipping a pay period would violate labor laws that require your company to pay you a set salary. The violation could trigger a loss of your federal exemption from overtime and minimum wage and put your company on the hook for all the extra hours you work.
Your employer could fire you if it isn't happy with your work, but it cannot violate frequency-of-payment rules to reprimand you. For more information call the U.S. Labor Department at 516-338-1890 or the state Labor Department at 516-794-8195.
For more on unemployment-benefits eligibility go to http://bit.ly/1eHrvE6
For more on how often state laws require workers to be paid go to http://bit.ly/1mbFgNT