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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

After-hours work by employee may still be on the clock

An employee at a clothing retailer asked to

An employee at a clothing retailer asked to stay after closing to clean up must be paid for the extra time if she is an hourly worker. Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / FatCamera

DEAR CARRIE: Our daughter works the late shift at a major clothing retailer. After the store closes, she is expected to spend time tidying up such as rehanging and reorganizing clothes. The management does not pay her for this extra time, which can be as long as 45 minutes. Can this be legal? — After Hours

DEAR AFTER: If she is hourly, it is blatantly illegal because hourly employees have to be paid for all the hours they work. She is told to remain on premises and told to work. That means she has to be paid. And she must be paid overtime whenever she exceeds 40 hours a week because of that extra work.

On the other hand, if your daughter is a manager, she doesn’t have to be paid for the extra hours. But managers must manage most of the time and supervise at least two full-time employees. If she doesn’t meet those criteria, she probably isn’t a manager and should be paid for the extra time. Tell her to call the U.S. Labor Department at 516-338-1890 for more information.

DEAR CARRIE: I am a public-school teacher. The district where I work is planning to issue my colleagues and me laptops. If we lose the computers, can the school make us pay for them? — Property Protocol

DEAR PROPERTY: The key words here are “public school teacher.” Whether or not you and your colleagues are on the hook for lost laptops would depend on what your union contract stipulates, said employment lawyer Christine Malafi, a partner at Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, which is based in Ronkonkoma.

“Public employees may be working under a collective bargaining agreement with their employer, and the terms of that agreement may govern the use of and responsibility for employer property and should be reviewed,” Malafi said.

The law is much simpler for private-sector employees. It prohibits their employers from docking their wages for such things as lost equipment.

Here is what the New York State Labor Department’s website says:

“Employers are only allowed to deduct certain items from an employee’s wages, such as taxes, insurance premiums, union dues, etc. They are not permitted to charge employees for breakages, cash shortages, fines or any other losses to the business.”

But the company could fire the employee who loses or breaks equipment, unless a union or employment contract prohibits it.

To avoid such workplace entanglements some companies require employees who work with tools or equipment, for example, to bring their own, as a condition of employment, Malafi said.

DEAR CARRIE: I live and work in Suffolk County. After a snow emergency was declared during the recent blizzard, many of us decided not to risk going into the office. The company even called some people and told them not to come in. Now, the office is telling us that those who didn’t make it in won’t be paid for the day. Is this allowed? — Snow Job?

DEAR SNOW: It’s legal. It may not be fair, but it is legal. If you are an hourly employee, the company has to pay you only for the hours you work. If the company didn’t make that clear ahead of time it was remiss.

Some companies will allow employees to use paid-time off when they prefer to stay home rather than risk an accident or a ticket for being on the roads during a snow emergency; the more generous employers pay their workers for the day even if they don’t make it in. The most important thing is for companies to explain to employees exactly what to expect.

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