DEAR CARRIE: I drive a school bus on Long Island. My employer requires me to attend a two-hour state-mandated safety refresher course twice a year. But my bosses refuse to pay me for the time because the training is state mandated. Is this correct? I believe I should be paid since the training fails to meet the federal criteria that allow employers to forgo paying for the time. -- Taken for a Ride?
DEAR TAKEN: If you are a school bus driver employed in the private sector, you have to be paid, said the Long Island office of the U.S. Labor Department. But if you work for a school district, alas, it can legally refuse to pay for the training time.
You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the federal criteria. In order for a private-sector employer to justify not paying you for the training time, the refresher course has to meet all four of these criteria: It is outside normal hours; it is voluntary, it is not job-related and no company work is performed during the course.
Your training clearly fails to meet all four requirements.
"The course is required by the employer for their employment, i.e. "job-related," and, therefore, is compensable," said Irv Miljoner, who heads the local office.
Even though the course is state-mandated, you still have to be paid, Miljoner said.
"It would be different if the driver was not yet employed, and needed to take the training to qualify for the position at the beginning," he said. "Once they are on the job and any training is required as part of the job, then it has to be paid for."
So if you work for a private-sector employer, you need to inform your managers politely that you must be paid when you take those required refresher courses.
The public sector is another matter. "There have been rulings," Miljoner said, "that say that school bus drivers directly employed by school districts who attend such training outside of regular work hours, need not be paid for the hours spent in such follow-up training."
DEAR CARRIE: My son and I work for a doctor. Several times during the year he closes the office for two weeks at a stretch. The closings can add up to two to three months a year. We do not receive any pay when the office closes. Can we collect unemployment benefits for that lost time? -- Forced Hiatus
DEAR FORCED: You should apply. The long stretches without work are tantamount to a layoff. You should apply as soon as any of the breaks starts. For more information, call the state Labor Department's Telephone Claims Center at 888-209-8124.
DEAR CARRIE: My niece worked as a full-time manager at a Long Island restaurant. She recently left and wonders if the company can legally withhold a performance bonus she earned. We feel she should be entitled to the bonus. But her ex-employer disagrees and has refused to pay her since she quit. She doesn't want to cause any problems. But if she is entitled to the bonus, should she contact human resources again? -- Missing Bonus
DEAR MISSING: Whether she can collect the bonus after quitting depends on what the company policy states. Bonuses are benefits, and since companies don't have to offer them, employers generally can determine eligibility. Some companies' policies nullify perks and even accrued paid time off when an employee quits. So your niece needs to get a copy of the bonus policy, which might be difficult since she left. If that doesn't work, she should contact the state Labor Department at 516-794-8195.
For more on when training time should be paid, go to http://1.usa.gov/o3pznA. For more on unemployment-benefits eligibility, go to http://bit.ly/1i2tfyo.