Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

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

DEAR CARRIE: I work for a nonprofit and usually put in five to six hours a day. On the days that I work more than six hours, I am told that I have to take a lunch break. I prefer not to, especially if I am working on a project. Do I have to sign a waiver or declare something that says I don't need a break and prefer to work right through? I never work more than seven hours. We employ fewer than 50 people.

-- Skipping Lunch

DEAR SKIPPING: You've hit upon one of the most sensitive questions the Help Wanted column has handled over the years. Many hourly employees prefer to work through lunch so they can leave work a half-hour or an hour earlier. While that's an attractive game plan for employees, it puts companies in violation of labor law. That is why your company insists on meal breaks.

"There are no exceptions, except in the case of a one-employee shift," the state Labor Department said.

Here are more details from the department for you to munch on:

"The noonday meal period is recognized as extending from 11 o'clock in the morning to 2 o'clock in the afternoon. An employee who works a shift of more than six hours, which extends over the noonday meal period, is entitled to at least thirty minutes off within that period for the meal period."

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And it adds, "If this shift describes this person's work hours, she must take the meal break."

DEAR CARRIE: I have a question about some legal wording on employment applications. What rights and claims would an applicant waive by agreeing to the statement below?

"I hereby waive any and all rights and claims I may have regarding the employer, its agents, employees or representatives, for seeking, gathering, and using truthful and nondefamatory information, in a lawful manner, in the employment process and all other persons, corporations, or organizations for furnishing such information about me."

-- No Legal Eagle

DEAR NO LEGAL: The waiver means, you would "be purporting to waive the right to sue a former employer and any other provider of background information," like a credit reporting agency or educational institution, said employment attorney Ellen Storch of Kaufman Dolowich Voluck & Gonzo in Woodbury.

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Storch points out that such a waiver is probably not as scary as it might seem.

"It is rather meaningless since all that is being waived is the use of information in a 'lawful' manner," she said. "If it's being used in a lawful manner, there is no claim to be waived."

Finally, she notes that if what you provided is the entire waiver, it wouldn't be sufficient under the Fair Credit Reporting Act for the employer to run a background check to begin with.

DEAR CARRIE: My 18-year-old daughter is being laid off from a part-time job she has had for 9 ½ months. In the meantime she wants to attend college as a full-time student. Can she collect unemployment benefits while at school? We live on Long Island, and she will be attending a SUNY college a few hundred miles upstate.

-- Concerned Dad

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DEAR CONCERNED: She could qualify if she meets the wage and hour criteria for her benefit year, which would be the 52 weeks preceding the date she files her claim.

"It doesn't matter if the earnings were from full- or part-time work," said the state Labor Department.

But to continue receiving benefits, she must be willing and able to work:

"If the person was unavailable for any given day or days during the benefit week [say because of illness or other personal reasons], they would lose a prorated share of the weekly benefit."

 

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For more on state labor laws and meal breaks, go to http://bit.ly/PpPds0

For more on what employers should know before conducting background checks, go to http://bit.ly/OZ24AU