Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

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

DEAR CARRIE: I am an exempt employee, so I don't get paid for overtime. Every year the company asks both exempt and nonexempt employees to work one or two Saturdays to do inventory. Is this legal? Shouldn't our employer give those who don't receive overtime, some comp time at least? -- Extra duty, no pay

DEAR EXTRA DUTY: Your company has a lot of leeway here. Unless a contract says otherwise, companies are free to set employees' hours. And since you are exempt, as in exempt from overtime, your employer doesn't have to pay you for extra hours or grant you a comp day. On the other hand, your nonexempt colleagues have to be paid for all the hours they work and must earn overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week.

DEAR CARRIE: I am a full-time carpenter. My colleagues and I have been stringing our two paid 15-minute breaks together for our lunch time. Now our employer has stated that he will no longer pay for a lunch break. Is he responsible for paying for two 15-minutes breaks? Also, can a person who works overtime be compensated with just equal time off or does the company have to pay overtime? -- No free lunch

DEAR NO FREE LUNCH: You're talking about a meal break, which New York State law defines as an uninterrupted period of at least 30 minutes. Most employees who work more than six hours a day have a right to a meal break. Companies don't have to pay for that time unless they make employees work. But state labor law says they must have the uninterrupted time.

Employers don't have to give employees any other breaks, but many do. If those breaks are 20 minutes or less, labor laws say companies shouldn't deduct employees' pay for that time.

As to your last question, if you are a nonexempt worker -- which generally means hourly -- then when you work more than 40 hours a week your company must pay you overtime for those extra hours. But if the company asks you to come in later in the day or leave earlier in the same workweek to keep you from surpassing the 40-hour watermark, that is legal, even though it might be inconvenient.

DEAR CARRIE: I need to determine what accrued paid-time off my company can make me forfeit after I announce my retirement date. I plan to retire at the end of the year, after more than 10 years at a large health care system. I want to abide by company policy and give the required five weeks' notice, which is equal to my annual vacation allowance. But I am hesitant because after some colleagues gave notice, our employer ordered them to leave the same day, rather than allow them to work until their planned resignation date. Is this legal? If it happened to me would the company have to pay me for lost wages? And would I be eligible to receive pay for the vacation days I would have accrued during that five-week period? My employer's policy prohibits me from cashing out accrued sick time after I leave, even though I have accumulated more than 12 weeks. So I want to at least receive pay for any unused vacation days. -- PTO dilemma

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DEAR PTO: Unless employees are covered by a union contract or employment agreement, a company can fire them at any time and for any reason. That's the employment-at-will doctrine. So pushing workers out after they give notice is generally legal -- maybe unfair, but legal.

If you are fired after your big announcement, your company doesn't have to pay you wages for those weeks you planned to stay or for vacation time you might have earned during that period. You could be eligible for unemployment benefits, though. So if you're let go, apply right away.

For more on meal breaks and paid-time off under state labor laws, go to