Help Wanted: Grieving and leaving and jobless benefits

An employee who went on bereavement leave --

An employee who went on bereavement leave -- and never returned -- will likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits. (Credit: iSTOCK)

Carrie Mason-Draffen

Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen Carrie Mason-Draffen

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

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DEAR CARRIE: My boss and I need your help for a situation we are facing. An employee requested a two-week bereavement leave, which was approved. After that time, the operations manager contacted the employee to reschedule him for work. The employee asked for another two weeks off.

When the extension expired, the manager contacted the employee again to schedule his return. The employee said he wasn't sure if he was coming back. To our surprise, we later received a New York State Labor Department notice that he had applied for unemployment benefits. Can he claim benefits since he hasn't officially quit or wasn't let go? -- Mysterious Claim

DEAR MYSTERIOUS: Anybody can apply for benefits, but qualifying for them is another matter. You are right to be concerned because as an employer you pay for unemployment-benefits insurance, and the more it's used, the higher your rates.

Generally, the unemployment program provides benefits to individuals who have lost their job through no fault of their own.

"If their last job ended for a reason other than lack of work, they may not be eligible for benefits," the department said. "The circumstances will be investigated, and a determination of their eligibility will be made."

Employers are contacted as part of that process and have a right to dispute the claim, the department said.

DEAR CARRIE: I am an hourly employee and work in big-box retail store. I have a question about staff meetings. They are generally scheduled for 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday, which is my day off. The meetings generally last for 90 minutes. I have heard that because I have to make a special trip in, I am supposed to be paid for at least two or four hours.

Since the meeting is scheduled for 90 minutes, that is what we are expected to clock in for. But it doesn't pay for me to drive back and forth at that rate. Is there a minimum amount of time the company should pay me for? -- Meeting Minimum?

DEAR MEETING: The only minimum requirement that generally comes into play for hourly workers is the minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour, both in New York State and the nation. Otherwise, hourly workers generally have to be paid only for the time they work. If you are in the meeting for 90 minutes, your company has to pay you for 90 minutes. If the meeting runs over, the company has to pay you for that extra time as well, and your time sheet should reflect how long the meeting was.

Your employer has to pay you for attending the meeting because the event doesn't meet all four of the federal labor law criteria used to determine if time spent at a meeting should be paid or unpaid. The company doesn't have to pay you if the meeting is held outside normal hours; it is voluntary; it is not job related and no work is being performed.

DEAR CARRIE: We work for a medical office owned by several doctors. One day, the doctor on duty finished his appointments by 10 a.m. and told us all to go home. That meant we were paid for just a few hours. We normally work eight hours a day. What are the rules regarding these situations? -- Bitter Pill

DEAR BITTER PILL: The good doctor seemed insensitive, but he acted legally if you are hourly workers. As I mentioned in the previous question, hourly workers have to be paid just for the hours they work.

On the other hand, if he sent an exempt worker home, he would still have to pay the person his or her regular salary. Exempt workers are salaried and fall into either the professional, executive, administrative or outside-sales categories.

Employers don't have to pay them overtime or even minimum wage. But companies have to pay them a set weekly salary, unless the exempt employee misses a full day of work for personal reasons.

Click here to go to http://bit.ly/dW16i0 for more on unemployment-benefits eligibility.

Click here to go to ttp://1.usa.gov/cQhejk for more on meetings and federal labor law.