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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Late because of the train? Know your workplace rights

Late afternoon commuters riding the LIRR from  Penn

Late afternoon commuters riding the LIRR from  Penn Station are faced with delays due to another train derailment on the Amtrak system in Manhattan, April 3, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday File / John Roca

DEAR READERS: The ongoing service problems of the Long Island Rail Road have produced some lively online discussions among commuters about such things as whether employers can dock employees’ pay when the workers are late because of a canceled or delayed train.

Some of the commuters have maintained in their online posts that employers can never legally dock workers’ pay if they are late through no fault of their own. That’s not quite true.

Help Wanted decided to weigh in with information for both employees and employers so they can navigate this frustrating situation with more insight about workplace rights and responsibilities.

When employees arrive late to work through no fault of their own, their employers can legally require them to use paid time off, such as vacation or personal days, to cover the missed time, unless the practice violates a union or employment contract. Neither federal nor state law requires companies to offer paid time off; so when they do, they can set the terms for using it.

Also, employers can legally dock the pay of hourly workers who arrive late because those workers have to be paid only for the time they work.

On the other hand, employers can’t legally dock the pay of exempt employees who are a few hours late for any reason, let alone a late train. Employers can legally dock these workers’ pay only if they miss an entire day for personal reasons.

But, again, companies can require the exempt workers to cover the missed time with hours from their accrued paid-time off. Even if those workers exhaust their paid-time off, their employers still can’t dock their pay. If they do, they destroy those workers’ exempt status. They would revert to hourly workers and would have to be paid for all the time they work and overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week.

Exempt workers generally fall into the executive, administrative, professional or outside-sales categories.

The above policies might seem heartless if carried out by employers. And they certainly would be bad for morale. But they would be legal.

For more information call the New York State Labor Department at 516-794-8195 or 212-775-3880.

DEAR CARRIE: My sister has an appointment for some medical tests. Because she plans to take the entire day off, her employer is giving her four hours of sick time for the appointment and will take 3.75 hours from her paid-time off to cover the rest of the day. The company feels that four hours is enough time for tests and that she should come back to work afterward. But she is taking off on the chance that she can’t return to work after the tests. I suggested that if it comes to that, she should get a doctor’s note that states she can’t return to work for the day. — Sick of Policy

DEAR SICK: It’s hard to know ahead of time how one will fare after medical tests. So saying that four hours will be enough is presumptuous — and a bit intrusive.

On the other hand, the policy is also generous. Typically when employees need time off for medical tests, employers charge all the missed time against their paid-time off or dock their pay, if they are hourly.

So in a way, the policy is a gift, but with mixed blessings.

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