Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: I work for a local company that may be expanding our schedule from 371/2 hours a week to 40 hours. Since our pay won't rise, the longer hours will amount to a pay cut. While most of us are salaried, our pay stubs show our hourly rate. So if you earn $97,500 a year, your pay stub will show $50 an hour. If the company moves to 40 hours a week, does it have to maintain the same hourly rate? That same rate at 40 hours a week would boost that salaried wage to $104,000.
On the other hand, if the salary doesn't rise for the expanded workweek, the hourly rate will drop to $46.875. In effect that is a 6.25 percent pay cut.
Can the company legally do this? The expanded schedule has implications for our vacation credits as well. We are allowed to accrue hours indefinitely (no use-it-or-lose-it), and when we leave the company, we are paid out at 100 percent of our accrued time. If we move to a 40-hour week with no increase in salary, this will cut the value of our vacation time.
For example, 112.5 accrued hours at $50 an hour equal $5,625. However, if they don't increase our salaries to reflect the longer days, the 112.5 accrued hours are worth only $5,273.44 -- a loss of $351.56! Is this also legal in New York? -- Salary Daze
DEAR SALARY: If you are an exempt employee, the salary level you quoted would put you beyond state wage-protection laws. In matters like this the state Labor Department isn't empowered to protect workers who gross more than $900 a week. Even the lower hourly rate you quoted works out to $1,875 a week.
Exempt employees fall into the administrative, executive, professional and outside-sales categories, under federal statutes. Federal law generally requires that these employees make at least $455 a week to maintain their exemption from overtime and minimum wage.
Your options to contest your situation could be small-claims court or a private attorney, but based on the information you provided, I don't know if you have a basis for a claim.
If you are nonexempt, which generally means an hourly worker, your employer must pay you for all the hours you work. So if you have to work 40 hours, you have to be paid for 40 hours.
And you have to earn overtime pay, when you work more than 40 hours in a workweek.
As for your vacation question, if you are exempt, the same is true for wage supplements, as vacation pay is called. If you make more than $900 a week, the state can't help you.
DEAR CARRIE: I quit my job because my boss was verbally abusive. She cursed and screamed at me when I needed to take a couple of hours off to go to the dentist because the crown on my tooth came off. That was the final straw. I have not applied for unemployment benefits because I thought the claim would be denied since I quit.
The company where I worked is a small, family-owned business, and my supervisor was the owner's daughter. I have sent my resume to numerous employers and to date have been unable to find another job or even get an interview. Apparently the daughter is now bad-mouthing me because any clients I had now seem to be shunning me. I am single and have limited funds. Could I receive unemployment benefits because my boss was abusive? -- Benefit Worthy?
DEAR BENEFIT: Even though your situation was dire, it's always best to determine the consequences of quitting before you leave.
Generally, if you resign, you don't qualify for unemployment benefits. But you should apply because the Labor Department stresses that it decides claims on a case-by-case basis.
For more information call the department's Telephone Claims Center at 888-209-8124.