Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

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

DEAR CARRIE: My full-time teaching position was abolished last year at the end of June. I was able to apply for unemployment for 26 weeks, with an extension until July of this year. I have been substitute-teaching since January. This is per-diem work, and I am called when the district needs me. Sometimes, I am not called for two weeks, and sometimes I am called for four or five days in a row. To my surprise I did not receive benefits for the school vacations in February and April.

Communication from the New York Labor Department indicates that since I work in a school district I cannot receive benefits during a school break. Something does not seem right here. I am not a salaried employee of the school district; therefore, I receive no remuneration for school breaks, holidays or summer vacation. Full-time teachers do, but I do not.

The department insists that I am not eligible for benefits. Now, I am concerned that my benefits will end in June when the school year ends. I have not been able to find a full-time teaching job, and now wonder if by substitute-teaching I have jeopardized any future unemployment benefits. Your clarification of this regulation would be helpful to me. -- Teacher's Fret

DEAR TEACHER'S FRET: Because you are working in education, you are subject to a rule that, unfortunately, means you can't necessarily collect unemployment benefits during a school break.

Here is what the department said:

"A claimant may not be eligible during a customary break if [rule] 590.10 applies; that is the rule that earnings at an educational institution cannot be used for unemployment purposes during school breaks when they have a reasonable assurance of performing services immediately following the school break."

But the department also said that you could appeal if you disagree with the decision.

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"If she received a suspension of benefits during the school breaks, and she believes it is wrong, she can request a hearing," the department said. "However, hearings must be requested within 30 days of a determination."

Bear in mind that you might run into the same problem again when your benefit year ends because you will need to file a new claim to determine your eligibility for benefits. A benefit year is the 52-week period preceding the date that you file a claim.

Your benefits during a school break may be denied again if you have a "reasonable assurance" of returning after the break, even on a per-diem basis. But you will still have the option to appeal.

"Again, she can request a hearing if she disagrees with the determination," the department said.

You wondered if you were jeopardizing your benefits eligibility by continuing to work in education. You might run the risk of losing benefits altogether if you stop working as a substitute, because then you might have trouble demonstrating that you tried to find work.


DEAR CARRIE: I work in a doctor's office and accidentally made an appointment for a patient who has health insurance we don't accept. The doctor told one of the secretaries to take it out of my pay. Is that legal? -- Paying for Mistake

DEAR PAYING: It is blatantly illegal. And the good doctor could face New York Labor Department fines for prescribing such a fix for your error. Here is what Section 193 of the state labor law says: "Employers may not deduct from wages the cost of breakage or spoilage of materials; nor may employers make wage deductions in any indirect manner, such as requiring a worker to pay for shortages by means of a separate transaction."

In fact, except for taxes, your employer cannot legally deduct any money from your check without your written permission. For more information, call the state Labor Department at 516-794-8195 or 212-775-3880.