Help Wanted: Short shrift on short shift?

Wage laws generally cover two categories; exempt and

Wage laws generally cover two categories; exempt and nonexempt workers. But if you punch in expecting a full day's work and get laid off, the issue is moot and the rules no longer apply. (Credit: iStock)

DEAR CARRIE: I was recently laid off three hours into my shift. I worked as a salaried employee. I don't know what the legal obligations of employers are in a case like this, but isn't it normal protocol for an employer to pay the laid-off employee for the full day? I had reported to work. But once I was laid off I was ordered to leave the premises after turning in my ID, my keys, and gathering my personal belongings. I don't know what to expect in terms of pay. -- Last Day

DEAR LAST DAY: If you were a nonexempt employee, as some salaried employees are, then the company should pay you for at least four hours of work at minimum wage, since you showed up for a regular workday, state law says. Nonexempt employees are workers whose duties fall outside of the administrative, professional, executive and outside-sales categories designated by federal labor laws. For example, they aren't managers, nor are they professionals whose jobs require a college degree.

For more information, contact the state Labor Department at 516-794-8195.


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The answer is trickier if you were an exempt employee. Employers can't legally dock the pay of exempt employees when they are absent from the office for less than a full day. So if you were still employed, the company would have violated the law by not paying you for the full day. But the fact that you were laid off changes that.

"It's a moot point anyway, if he's laid off," said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Department of Labor. Once you are laid off, the rules for exempt employees no longer apply, and the company doesn't have to pay you for the rest of the day.

 

DEAR CARRIE: I am a nonunion, exempt employee, and I thought we couldn't be docked when we miss a few hours of a workday because of such things as a doctor's appointment. But our company policy says that we will get paid for the day only if we work more than four hours. If we work fewer, then we have to use our paid time off to cover the missed hours. Is this legal? And if we miss an hour or so because of an appointment, for example, is it legal for the company to force us to make up the time? -- Fact or Fiction?

DEAR FACT: It is true that a company can't legally dock the wages of exempt employees when they miss less than a full day. But wages aren't the same as paid time off. And a company can subtract the missed hours from exempt employees' paid time off. Even if the workers had no paid time off, the company still couldn't dock their wages when the employees miss less than a day.

Your company is actually giving you more than labor law requires because it doesn't always make you use your paid time off to cover missed hours.

As for requiring you to make up the time, that's risky business because the company would be treating you like an hourly employee, and that could trigger a loss of your exemption from overtime and minimum wage.

 

TO MY READERS: Thanks for all your great questions during the year. They helped to keep the column interesting, informative and fresh. Some of most memorable questions came from: a woman who wanted to know what to do about a preacher/supervisor who proselytized on the job; a doorman who wanted to know if he was entitled to a lunch break, even if no one could relieve him; the medical assistant whose employer threatened to dock her wages because she booked an appointment for a patient whose insurance the doctor's office didn't accept; the employee who questioned the legality of a beverage ban during meetings, and several older job seekers who wanted to know how to overcome ageism in the employment market.

I look forward to even more excellent questions next year. Have a happy holiday season.

For more on exempt employees and salary requirements under federal law go to http://1.usa.gov/ISCm3x.