Carrie Mason-Draffen Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen

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

DEAR CARRIE: If someone works a 12-hour shift, how many lunch breaks is that person entitled to? I thought that after five hours, a worker was entitled to a half-hour paid lunch break. If that is so, should that worker get two paid lunch breaks for a 12-hour day? -- More Breaks

DEAR MORE BREAKS: The law isn't that generous. Your company would have to give you at least a half-hour meal break when you work a shift lasting more than six hours. And when you work an extra-long shift -- say you start before 11 a.m. and continue working past 7 p.m. -- you must receive an extra meal break of at least 20 minutes. And by the way, companies don't have to pay for meal breaks. 

DEAR CARRIE: My employer offers health insurance and employees pay most of the cost. I don't need the benefits because I am covered under my husband's health insurance. Doesn't my employer have to pay me the same amount it pays for employees who opt for the coverage? New employees are coming in, taking the health insurance the company offers, and they are making more money than I am even though I have worked here for 15 years. -- Equal Benefits

DEAR EQUAL: Sorry, but your company isn't required to make any benefits payments to you because you waived your participation in its program, said Susan Sajiun-Fitzharris, vice president for employee benefits at HUB International Northeast in Hauppauge.

"No, there is no such payment obligation," she said. "Although it's true that many employers are subject to discrimination testing rules that preclude structuring a health plan to favor highly compensated employees, that does not mean the employer is required to pay any additional salary to those who voluntarily waive coverage."

It's worth mentioning that companies aren't even required to offer benefits. So when they do, they can set the terms as long as they don't discriminate. And some employers offer payments to encourage employees to forgo coverage.

"There are some employers who do voluntarily provide an incentive for employees who waive coverage," Sajiun-Fitzharris said. "However they are actually phasing out the use of such incentive cash payments to people who decline coverage for many reasons, including health-care reform." 

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DEAR CARRIE: I am a unionized worker and recently lost my job. I was what they call "bumped" out of my position by another worker with more seniority. She was bumped out of her department and in turn bumped me. So I am out of a job. I had never heard of this. Is this legal even though it's in the contract? Is there any way to get my job back? -- Bad Bump

DEAR BAD BUMP: Bumping is a common practice in a unionized workforce, and it's spelled out in union agreements.

"The union collective bargaining agreement legally addresses seniority rights and the right for a more senior employee to bump a junior employee," said Regina Faul, an employment attorney and partner at Rivkin Radler in Uniondale. "If the layoff occurred in accordance with the procedure outlined in the collective bargaining agreement, then the laid-off employee will not have recourse."

On the other hand, she said, "The contract may address recall rights of laid-off employees. In the event the layoff was effectuated without considering seniority, or effectuated improperly for some other reason, the employees' recourse is through their union grievance procedure."

Click here to read more on state labor law and benefits and meal breaks at