Help Wanted: Jobless benefits, pay credits

When a business closes, the rules for unemployment

When a business closes, the rules for unemployment insurance for its workers are determined by the wages in at least two calendar quarters of the base period. (Credit: Newsday, 2007 / Jim Peppler)

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: After her standard maternity leave was up, a friend of mine asked her employer for a one-year unpaid leave with no benefits. The company agreed and said it would hold her position until she returned. Well, the employer is now going out of business and plans to close in June. My friend was due to return to work in September. Would she be entitled to unemployment benefits? If she is entitled to benefits, would they start in September? And when would they expire? -- Friendly Query

DEAR FRIENDLY: She might qualify for unemployment benefits if she meets the wage criteria in her base period, which would be the 52 weeks preceding the day she files for benefits. She must have worked and earned wages in at least two calendar quarters of her base period, and the wages must total at least $1,600 in one of those quarters, according to the New York State Department of Labor. Those are two main criteria.

Her "eligibility would be based on her wage credits at the time she files her unemployment claim," the department said.

As to when she should file, the department recommends that people file during their first week of total or partial unemployment, since there is about a weeklong waiting period.

If she qualified, she would most likely receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, unless one of the extension programs kicks in for her. Some people who have been unemployed for a while and meet certain criteria can receive up to 93 weeks of benefits: 26 regular weeks plus 67 weeks of federal extensions. For more details, go to the link for this story at Newsday.com.

And of course, once the benefits kick in, recipients must be actively looking for work to continue receiving the money legally.

DEAR CARRIE: I am a part-time hourly employee at a large events company. My employer established Monday, Dec. 26, last year as the company holiday, instead of Sunday, which was Christmas Day. So the full-time staff had Monday off. I had Monday off, too, because I worked Christmas Day. And other event staff worked on Monday. Here's the unfair part: They earned holiday pay. But my employer will not pay me holiday pay for working Christmas Day. Is this proper?

Although our events typically last for six hours, we often work longer. During the holidays I worked as many as 46 hours a week. The company would give me premium holiday pay for the six hours over 40. But I feel it should have designated another six hours for overtime pay so that I truly received holiday pay. Am I correct on either issue? -- Grinch Boss?

DEAR GRINCH BOSS: If that "holiday premium pay" worked out to 1½ times your regular hourly pay rate for every hour over 40, then your company paid you what the law requires for hourly employees who work overtime. What you receive beyond that is up to the company, since companies don't have to pay so-called holiday pay and can set the terms for it.

On the other hand, if your company paid you less than the law stipulates for overtime, then it broke the law and owes you some money. The real test here is what you earned per hour for the overtime hours and not what that pay was called.