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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

For pregnant worker, it's either disability or unemployment benefits

DEAR CARRIE: My unemployment benefits ran out recently after about six months. I am also six months pregnant and know how hard it would be for me to look for work, and I doubt anyone would hire me since my pregnancy is hard to disguise. Do I qualify for disability benefits?

-- Mom in a BindDEAR MOM: Unfortunately, you are not eligible for disability payments, especially since your unemployment benefits have expired, said employment attorney Howard Wexler, an associate of Seyfarth Shaw in Manhattan.

Here's why: Eligible workers can receive unemployment benefits or disability payments in the same 26-week period, but not both. If a worker receiving unemployment benefits becomes disabled because of an illness or injury, then New York grants disability benefits as a replacement for the jobless benefits, not as a supplement or extension, Wexler said.

"As it appears that you have exhausted your 26 weeks of unemployment insurance, you are not eligible for disability benefits under New York State law," he said.

Bear in mind that eligible unemployed workers can receive benefits for as many as 26 weeks as long as they are willing and able to work, something they can't do if they are on disability.

What's more, whether a pregnant worker is considered disabled has to be determined by a doctor or a nurse midwife, Wexler said.

For more information, Wexler suggested that you contact the state Workers' Compensation Board, which decides whether an individual is eligible to collect disability benefits. That number is 866-681-5354.

Regarding your belief that an employer would not hire you because of your pregnancy, Wexler noted that federal and state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against a woman because of her pregnancy or childbirth.

"Employers cannot take any adverse employment action against a woman related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, which includes the decision to hire," he said.

So it's illegal. But that doesn't mean it never happens.

DEAR CARRIE: I am a manager at a Long Island company that is based in Texas. I regularly work more than 40 hours per week and don't receive any overtime. I know that's because managers are exempt from overtime. But what I don't understand is why my company forces me to dip into my paid time off when I need to take the occasional few hours off to tend to personal matters. Even if I make up those hours during the week, I am still required to use personal time to cover any partial-day absences. My understanding is this is illegal. Can you please let me know what the law says regarding this and the penalties companies face when they violate it? And can my company be forced to restore any of my paid time off? -- Shortchanged Manager?

DEAR SHORTCHANGED: I hope you are sitting down when you read this answer because you're not going to like it. Yes, your company can require you to use your vacation time or other paid time off to cover your late starts or early leaves. It is fair? Probably not, especially since, as you noted, you receive no extra money when you work overtime.

When you are absent for less than a day, the company can legally require you to use paid-time off to cover the absence. But here's some good news: Your employer cannot dock your pay unless you miss a full day for personal reasons. Even if you had no paid time off left, your company couldn't legally dock your pay when you are absent for less than a full day.

You might want to reconsider whether it makes sense to work late to make up any missed time, since that extra effort won't change the outcome. Go to for more on disability-benefits eligibility.


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