Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: My company hired managers whose hours were 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. After their supervisor left, her replacement ordered the staff to work from 9 a.m. to whenever the job gets done. That is usually no earlier than 7 p.m. and frequently as late as 9 p.m. Do labor laws protect them from this onerous schedule? If not, shouldn't they at least get paid overtime? -- Crazy Life
DEAR CRAZY LIFE: One of the biggest shocks for some managers is that generally labor laws don't limit their working hours. State labor laws require companies to give workers in certain industries and occupations, including factory and retail workers and janitors and building superintendents, at least one day of rest a week.
Other than that, under state law workers over age 18 can be asked to work any number of hours a day.
As for overtime, which kicks in after 40 hours a week, state law says that managers are eligible if they make no more than $543.75 a week. Bona fide managers don't qualify for overtime under federal law. Managers must supervise at least two full-time employees and manage for most of the day, federal labor law says, and managers have to make at least $455 a week.
DEAR CARRIE: I was laid off nine years ago after working for an insurance company for 25 years. I had $140,000 in a cash balance plan, which consisted only of company contributions. I had the option of moving my money out, but kept it in the company pension plan because I was earning 4.6 percent interest. I got statements every year showing the interest increases. Then I got a letter announcing that the company was going out of business and that the Pension Benefitt Guaranty Corp. was taking over the underfunded pension plan. I wanted to take my money out. But the PBGC said that I couldn't because the money was no longer mine. In addition, I had estimated that when I retired at age 65 I would get from $1,400 to $1,500 a month. But the PBGC projects my benefit at $1,000 a month. Do I have any recourse for getting my $140,000 back? -- Pension Upheaval
DEAR PENSION: I'm afraid you don't, at least as a lump sum. The PBGC, which takes over the terminated pension plans of companies that cease operating, doesn't pay lump-sum benefits, the agency said.
And the benefit you eventually receive could be lower than you expected for at least two reasons. First, once your company's plan ended, you stopped accruing benefits and interest. And secondly, the monthly amount you receive is subject to rules and limits set by Congress.
The good news is that despite your company's demise and its underfunded plan, you can count on a monthly pension check for life, the agency said.
The PBGC suggested that you call its customer contact center at 800-400-7242 for more information on how your benefit will be calculated.
DEAR CARRIE: Can an employer make you work unpaid overtime or take an abbreviated lunch? I was hired with an hour lunch and set hours. -- Upset!
DEAR UPSET: The company can require you to work overtime, as mentioned above. But if you're an hourly worker, you have to be paid for all the time you work, and that includes the overtime rate when you work more than 40 hours a week. If you're a manager, read the answer above.
As for lunch, state labor law guarantees most workers just a half-hour of uninterrupted time when they work more than six hours a day. Whether they get more time is up to their employer.
For more on how labor laws define managers go to http://1.usa.gov/151TzxU