DEAR CARRIE: I am a part-time, unionized worker at a Long Island public school. I have asked for a three-week leave of absence to help my elderly aunt, whose house was badly damaged when Hurricane Irma hit Florida. The school is telling me that part-time workers aren’t eligible for vacation or time off. But neither our union contract nor the employee handbook states that. The district is willing to let me go for one week as an extenuating circumstance. But that is not enough time to get everything done. If I take off more than that, the district says it will take disciplinary action against me for insubordination, Does it have the right to do that? — No Help
DEAR NO: Your employer may have the right to deny you the three-week leave because of your part-time status. Very often part-time workers don’t receive any benefits at all, including paid time off. And the district may also be able to deny you the time off because it is likely that none of the statutes granting employees time off cover you.
Essentially, employees have three avenues to obtain a leave of absence from work: They are statutory, contractual and through their employer’s policy, said employment attorney Carmelo Grimaldi, a partner at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone in Mineola.
Statutorily, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and New York’s new Paid Family Leave law provide eligible employees leaves to take care of seriously ill relatives. But even then they don’t include time off to help an aunt. What’s more, your aunt isn’t ailing.
“These statutes do not cover your aunt’s situation,” Grimaldi said.
In terms of contracts, since you are a union employee, you are not covered by a personal employment agreement, which might have granted you more flexibility on leaves.
Lastly, in terms of policy, the collective bargaining agreement between your union and the school district should spell out the terms and conditions of your employment, including paid or unpaid leaves of absence, Grimaldi said. So you should consider asking your union to help you take a closer look to find out what exactly the agreement states regarding time off for part-time employees.
“While the school district has interpreted this agreement in its favor, you should ensure this is accurate by contacting your union delegate who will determine if the agreement provides otherwise,” Grimaldi said. “ If the agreement does not affirmatively provide you, in your permanent part-time position, with vacation and leaves of absence, the school district’s position is correct.”
Still, you shouldn’t give up.
“Even if the agreement is silent on leaves of absence for part-time employees, the union can nonetheless ask the school district to make a one-time exception for you.”
DEAR CARRIE: My company terminated me, and I later found out that I wasn’t entitled to any of my unused paid time off. Is this legal? I thought that once I earned those days, they were mine to use or cash out. — Time Flies (Away)
DEAR TIME FLIES: It is legal if the company’s written policy or its past practices reflect that. If neither one addresses the issue, then you may have to be paid for the time you earned.
Many employees don’t find out until it’s too late that they forfeit all accrued paid time off when they leave a company for any reason. That’s why some employees use up their paid time off before they hand in their letters of resignation. But you don’t have that luxury with a termination.
As I have said here many times, companies don’t have to offer benefits; so when they do they can set the terms, unless a union contract comes into play. And often the fine print of paid-time off policies says that employees forfeit that time when they leave.