DEAR CARRIE: I work in a website development office. Everyone sits at a desk and works on a computer. No manufacturing or warehouse work is involved. Yet, our vice president has decided to prohibit open-toe sandals in the office this summer, heels or not. I am not just talking flip-flops which I can agree with, but all shoes that bare the toes. Legal? — Other Shoes Drop
DEAR OTHER SHOES: Wow. That must be a hard rule to swallow. Open-toe shoes are practically de rigueur in summer, and some are quite fashionable. That said, the new office rule is probably legal because it applies to everyone, and not to women only, for example.
“If it applies to everyone, it doesn’t seem discriminatory in our terms,” said a spokesman in the Manhattan district office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces anti-discrimination statutes in the workplace.
I would be curious to know how the shoe rule came about. Did some of your co-workers abuse the freedom you had before? Perhaps too many flip-flops prompted the prohibition. Or perhaps a safety issue is at play that the company needs to be upfront about.
Sounds like you and your colleagues need to discuss the issue with your supervisor. Maybe you can walk in each other’s shoes and find some room for negotiation.
DEAR CARRIE: I work for a private security company that provides guards to a school district. As such, there are numerous days off, sometimes more than a week at a time. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Since I’m employed by a private company and not the school district, can I submit a claim for unemployment benefits to cover the long breaks? — Breaks Break the Bank
DEAR BREAKS: Unemployment-eligibility questions are some of the toughest to answer because many factors can come into play in a single case. That’s why the standard advice of the state Labor Department is to file and hear what comes back.
Unemployment benefit decisions “are made on a case-by-case basis based on details from both the employee and the employer, and without all the information, DOL can’t definitively determine eligibility for benefits,” a spokesman said.
But if your break is considered a temporary layoff, you might not be eligible for benefits, an employment lawyer said.
“New York State does not permit an employee to collect unemployment benefits for a temporary layoff only,” said Christine Malafi, a partner at Campolo, Middleton & McCormick in Ronkonkoma.
And employers must make the status of the break clear ahead of time, she said.
“To avoid payment of unemployment benefits, there must be an agreement between the employer and the employee, prior to the layoff, that the layoff is for a definite period only,” she said. “Therefore, if the private security company’s handbook or the employee’s employment agreement or written offer letter state that his or her work days follow the school calendar, the break would be considered a temporary layoff only, not eligible for benefits.”
But she stressed that each situation is unique, “and the very specifics of [this employee’s] employment may entitle him or her to benefits.”