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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Dwindling work may prompt jobless-benefits eligibility

A medical transcriber whose pay has been cut to $10 every two weeks should file for unemployment, Labor Department says.

A medical transcriber whose pay has been cut

A medical transcriber whose pay has been cut to $10 every two weeks may qualify for unemployment benefits. Photo Credit: Getty Images / chrispecoraro

DEAR CARRIE: I have worked as a transcriber for a radiology company for the past 30 years. Four years ago the company was sold, and the new owners set me up with a computer so I could do the same work from home while continuing to be paid an hourly wage. Then the new owners began paying me per line. As if that wasn’t bad enough, about two months ago they switched over to a voice-recognition system. As a result, my caseload has plunged from about 60 cases a day to just two during the two-week pay period. So I am averaging about $10 per pay period. I understand that I wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment if I quit. And I think the company is hoping I will leave on my own. I feel stuck. What can I do? I can’t get an answer from management about what is going on. — Too Few Words

DEAR TOO FEW: You might be able to qualify for benefits because one of the factors that can help your eligibility is a drastic change in the terms in your employment. Going down to $10 per pay period is certainly a drastic change.

The state Labor Department’s standard line is that you should apply and hear what comes back.

“Eligibility for [unemployment] benefits is determined on a case-by-case basis, and this individual should contact the Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance Claims Center,” a spokesman said.

You can contact the center at 888-209-8124 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the spokesman said.

To file a wage underpayment complaint, contact the department’s Division of Labor Standards at 888-469-7365.

DEAR CARRIE: I am a health-care professional with a national chain. One would think that I am an exempt employee since I am salaried. But I am not. I get paid overtime for any hours over 40. But this is not paid as time-and-a-half, but rather straight time plus a $30 an-hour “premium.” Is this legit? I can’t find anything in writing supporting the company policy. Also, any hours I take off for any reason are paid by deducting from my sick or vacation days. Is this legal? — What’s My Status?

DEAR WHAT’S: Being salaried alone doesn’t determine whether workers are exempt. While exempt workers have to be salaried, their status is primarily determined by their duties.

And since you indicated you are a “health-care professional,” you could be exempt on a “professional” basis if your job requires such things as a degree and the consistent use of discretion and judgment in performing your work. Doctors and registered nurses fall into the professional category, for example.

If you are exempt, your company doesn’t have to pay you for any extra hours you work, let alone overtime. So if you are exempt and getting paid for the extra hours, then your employer is paying you more than the law requires.

Whether you are exempt or not, the company can require that you cover missed hours with paid time off. That’s key for exempt workers, because employers cannot dock their pay if they miss a few hours for a doctor’s appointment. But companies can require them to use paid time off to cover that time.

I would suggest that you sit down with someone in human resources to try to determine what your status is. That may allay your fears that you are being cheated or give you the basis to challenge how you are classified and paid. If that doesn’t work, call the U.S. Labor Department at 516-338-1890 or 212-264-8185.

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