Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

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

DEAR CARRIE: My company is moving about 50 miles from its current location. If I quit because of a longer commute, would I be entitled to unemployment benefits? I don't think the price of gas and the extra drive time make it feasible for me to stay on.

-- Drive-Time Issue

DEAR DRIVE-TIME: If your one-way trip extends to 1 1/2 hours or more, which is considered a long commute in these parts, you might qualify for unemployment benefits, according to the state Labor Department. The cost of gas would also be a factor in determining your eligibility.

"In this instance, the cost of gas would be a consideration," the department said.

Before you quit, bear in mind that the department will want to see proof that you sought help from your employer before heading for the door. For example, did you ask your employer to reimburse you for the extra mileage or to allow you to work from a closer location?

For more information call the department's Telephone Claims Center at 888-209-8124.

DEAR CARRIE: My wife is an exempt employee at a local company. The owner plans to close the office for several days during the Christmas and New Year holidays and has told all employees, exempt and nonexempt, that they have to use their vacation and personal days to cover those closings. Can the company do this to exempt workers?

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-- Holiday Quibble

DEAR HOLIDAY: Yes, it is legal because the company wouldn't be taking the time from your wife's salary but from her paid time off.

"The exemption rules do not address benefits," said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Department of Labor, in Westbury. "How much they give and how much they take back doesn't affect the exempt status."

Rules for docking the salaries of exempt employees, who are exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws, are strict. The company could dock her salary only if she missed a full day for personal reasons, which clearly wouldn't be the case here.

But it can require her to use vacation days or other paid time off to cover the holiday closings because a company can determine how benefits are applied, Miljoner said. "No employee can dictate to a company the terms and conditions of work, including the days that the company decides the establishment is closed for a holiday."


DEAR CARRIE: I worked in a small professional office. I was in the process of selling my home and thought I was doing the proper thing by telling my employer in January that I might be leaving in March. After hiring two people to replace me, the owner then informed me that she couldn't afford to pay all three of us. So I was terminated on March 31, before I was ready to leave, it turns out. Will I be able to obtain unemployment benefits? Also, I worked there for 20 years, and when I asked about getting paid for unused vacation days, she said I wasn't entitled to that time since I was leaving. Could that be legal?

-- Surprise Goodbye

DEAR SURPRISE: Since you were fired and the reason wasn't for misconduct, you would most likely qualify for unemployment benefits.

As for the unused vacation, the company can legally state in its written policy that you forfeit unused vacation days when you leave. But it should have informed you of that written policy in advance.

"To be valid, the employer must have told employees, in writing, of the conditions that nullify the benefit," the department said.

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If you feel you are entitled to pay for the unused days, call the Labor Department at 516-794-8195 or 212-775-3880.