Help Wanted: Lifeguarding with no break

State labor law requires a meal break when State labor law requires a meal break when you work more than six hours a day, but if no one else is on duty, rules for a one-employee shift apply, as long as you know that before taking the job. (June 22, 2010) Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

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Carrie Mason-Draffen

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

DEAR CARRIE: I am a 16-year-old student. Last summer, I worked for a lifeguard temporary agency. It was my first job. I have questions about what I believe were unlawful company practices. I often worked as long as 9 1/2 hours a day without breaks. I also wasn't paid overtime for those days when I worked more than my scheduled eight hours a day. Does this violate labor laws for minors and for workers in general? -- Violations?

DEAR VIOLATIONS: Regarding breaks, state labor law requires employers to give employees a meal break when they work more than six hours a day, unless they are the only person on duty. Here's what the state Labor Department says about your situation:

"If there is more than one lifeguard on duty, the lifeguard should be given a meal break. If there is no one else on duty, the rules for a one-employee shift would apply, as long as the employee knows about the working conditions previous to taking the job."

And when you worked through lunch, the employer should have paid you.

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"The employee must be paid for all of the hours he/she works, even if the employee eats while on the job," the department said.

Other breaks are up to the employer.

It's odd that your employer wouldn't make sure you took a meal break every day since your job of saving lives depends on your being mentally focused. You won't be if you work many hours without a break.

Regarding overtime, that kicks in after you work more than 40 hours a week. For those extra hours federal labor law requires companies to pay eligible workers at least 1 1/2 times their regular hourly wage. If the business is seasonal, however, it might not have to pay overtime under federal law. But in that case, New York labor law might require companies to pay employees overtime of at least 1 1/2 times the state's $7.25-an-hour minimum wage.

Most importantly for you, your company probably violated labor laws with your long days. State law generally caps the work day of 16-year-olds at eight hours a day. For more information call the Labor Department at 888-469-7365.

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DEAR CARRIE: My wife is an employee of a large radiology company and works several 12-hour days. On busy days she is sometimes unable to take any breaks or stop to eat. Is this practice acceptable, or can she put her foot down and just take a lunch break? -- Concerned Husband

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DEAR CONCERNED: Generally employees who work more than six hours a day are entitled to at least a half-hour uninterrupted meal break, unless she is the only worker on duty, as mentioned above. But since she works for a large company, she probably has plenty of co-workers who can relieve her for what sounds like a much-needed lunch break.

So she should insist on a meal break, since she is most likely entitled to one.

DEAR CARRIE: Is it legal in New York State for a company not to give full-time employees paid sick days? Every company I've ever worked for had a section in their employee handbook that covered such paid time off. It would detail the number of days permitted and parameters for using the time. My current employer will not pay for even a single sick day. This seems illegal. Any thoughts? -- Sickly PTO Policy

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DEAR SICKLY: Believe it or not, companies don't have to offer paid time off. You probably thought they had to because so many employers, including your previous ones, offered paid time off. But labor law doesn't require employers to offer vacation, sick days or personal days.

For more on meal breaks and state law, go to http://bit.ly/Vz6D6P. For more on state law and permitted working hours for minors, go to http://bit.ly/UQ7tQn.

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