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Eight little-known labor laws that may surprise you

Under certain circumstances, employers must give workers paid

Under certain circumstances, employers must give workers paid time off to vote and cannot penalize employees who are serving on a jury. Photo Credit: Getty Images / YinYang

If you’re a registered voter, your employer may have to give you paid time off to go to the polls. In most industries, employees 18 and older can legally be asked to work any number of hours per week. And workers who toil at seasonal businesses such as amusement parks and summer camps don’t have to be paid the minimum wage or overtime.

These are some of the lesser-known state and federal laws dealing with workers’ pay and hours, local regulators and lawyers said. The laws detail both employees’ and employers’ rights and responsibilities in the workplace.

Unfamiliarity with the regulations often leaves employees wondering if their boss’ policies are legal. And being unaware can cost employers dearly, especially when unpaid wages are involved, some lawyers said.

Here’s a look at eight laws in detail.

Time off to vote

If you’re a registered voter, state law grants you up to two hours of paid time off from work to vote on election day, unless you have four consecutive, nonworking hours to vote while the polls are open, state election law states. The polls are generally open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in New York.

“The two hours of leave time has to be taken at the very beginning of the workday or at the end of the workday, unless the employer and employee agree otherwise,” said employment lawyer Jessica Moller, a partner in Bond, Schoeneck & King’s Garden City office. The Syracuse-based law firm, which represents employers, recently published a guide, “Got It Covered? Often Overlooked Wage and Hour Issues for New York Employers.”

You must request the leave at least two working days before the election, the law says. Employers must display a notice of the voting time-off provision at least 10 days before the election.

Unlimited workweeks

If you are 18 or older, state law doesn’t limit the number of hours your employer can ask you to work. (Under federal law it’s 16 and older.)

“A lot of people are quite surprised it is legal,” said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Labor Department and says his office frequently receives calls about long hours.

State law does require, however, that employees in certain industries receive at least one day of rest a week. Those industries include factories, hotels (except resort and seasonal operations), and restaurants (except small rural restaurants). Hourly workers must be paid for all the hours they work and earn overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week.

Seasonal jobs

Seasonal businesses don’t have to pay you overtime or even minimum wage. But a business can’t just declare itself seasonal in order to save on labor costs. It has to meet one of two federal criteria. The first limits the business to operating not more than seven months in a calendar year.

“If it’s not closed for a substantial part of the year, it would likely not meet the requirement for an exemption,” Miljoner said.

The other test requires that monthly sales in an establishment’s slowest six-month period average not more than a third of the monthly average for its busiest six months. So if the busy season’s monthly average is, say, $50,000 and that drops to $15,000 in the offseason, that business could be considered seasonal because the smaller amount does not exceed a third of the higher amount.

Jury duty

Employers cannot penalize you for serving jury duty, but they also may not have to pay you your regular wages. That said, companies with more than 10 employees are required to pay workers at least the daily state fee of $40 for the first three days. After that, the state pays, if the employer doesn’t continue to do so. And the state pays the fee from the beginning for workers at smaller companies that don’t pay the jury duty fee.

For exempt employees, the requirement is less straightforward. Their employer can legally forgo paying them their regular wages only if they miss a full week of work because of jury duty. If they miss just a few days or do any work at all, they have to be paid their salary for the week.

After-hours behavior

If your boss is a teetotaler and it comes to his or her attention that you like to take a nip now and again after work, he can’t legally fire you for that under a state law titled “Discrimination against the engagement in certain activities.” And if your employer is a Democrat, he can’t legally fire you for putting up Donald Trump signs off premises on your lunch hour or after work.

“Individual political activities outside of working hours, off the employer’s premises and without use of the employer’s equipment or other property — such activities are legal,” said employment lawyer Carmelo Grimaldi, a partner at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone in Mineola.

Of course, there are exceptions to the law. The activities must be legal and must not present a conflict of interest with the job.

Show-up pay

You show up for work. The boss says she has no work for you and sends you home. For your troubles, state law says you have to be paid at least four hours at minimum wage or for your regular shift if it was for fewer hours.

This regulation is aimed at lower-wage workers, Grimaldi said, so “they don’t walk away empty-handed.”

Employees who earn well over the minimum wage don’t usually qualify for call-in pay.

Bone marrow donor

State labor law provides unpaid time off to employees at companies with 20 or more workers to donate bone marrow, Moller, of Bond Schoeneck, said. Eligible employees can get up to 24 work hours. Employees generally have to provide a “reasonable” advance notice for the medical procedure associated with donating marrow, Moller said.

Meal breaks

Your workday is 8 ½ hours long, including a 30-minute unpaid meal break. You would rather skip the meal time and leave early. Your boss says no, and you believe he is being impossible about a simple request. But the company is just following the law. If you wind up working a full day without a meal break — which anyone in New York State is entitled to after more than six hours on the job — your company has to pay you for 8 ½ hours instead of eight. And if you skip lunch and fail to leave early all week long, then your company is also on the hook for overtime, which kicks in after 40 hours.

“They don’t want you working during that time and potentially incurring overtime,” Moller said. “The purpose of the meal break is to allow workers to have time during their workday to eat, not to allow them to go home early, or come in late.”


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