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Can a speech therapist apply for unemployment benefits during school breaks?

DEAR CARRIE: I am employed by a staffing company part time during the school year to provide speech therapy to students. I am considered a company employee, as I receive a W2. I was wondering if I would be eligible for unemployment benefits during the summer months. 

— Summer Benefits?

DEAR SUMMER: As the employee of a third party, you would have a good case for filing for unemployment benefits if your employer essentially lays you off during the summer. State unemployment laws that make workers employed by school districts ineligible for jobless benefits during school breaks don't apply to people employed by a third party. 

Here is what the state Labor Department's website says about the sections of unemployment law that address the issue: 

"If you work in a school but are not directly employed by the school itself, Section 590.10 or 590.11 does not affect you. For example, Section 590 would not apply to you if you work for a private bus company or a private food service vendor that contracts with a school."

To be more specific, Section 590.10 applies to someone who is employed by an educational institution in an instructional, research or principal administrative capacity, the website says. Examples include: Teacher, tutor, guidance counselor and business manager.

Section 590.11 applies to someone who is employed by an educational institution but works in areas other than those listed above: Examples include: Nurse, maintenance worker, teacher aide, cafeteria worker and school crossing guard.

So if you find yourself out of work because of a school break, you should file for unemployment benefits.

DEAR CARRIE: I received 24 hours of paid time off at the first of the year. But when I went to schedule time off, I was informed that the company does not provide PTO because state law does not require it. It said a computer error caused the problem. So the company denied my request and revoked all my PTO. Is my employer legally allowed to just take the time away even if it was just an error or mistake? All my paychecks now indicate that I don't have the PTO. I needed the time off to schedule surgery.

— No Go on PTO 

DEAR NO: The company is right that state law doesn't require companies to offer paid time off. Many companies offer it to compete for talent or because a union or employment agreement calls for it. I wonder how well your company communicated its no-PTO policy to you since you seemed to become aware of it only after the error. But a company doesn't establish a PTO policy when its accidentally puts it on someone's check any more than it would be formally giving an employee a raise with an erroneous overpayment. I think you're out of luck. 

Just for the record, New York City requires certain employers to offer paid sick leave. New York State's Paid Family Leave law covers time off for employees to care for a newborn or a seriously ill family member, but not for the care of workers themselves. 

DEAR READERS: Last week's column drew a response from the National Association of Letter Carriers, which took issue with the answer Help Wanted gave to a postal worker who felt he should be paid for his lunch break. He said he had to stay with his truck at times for security reasons during his half-hour meal break.    

Here is the response:

"City letter carriers,"  the term used for carriers who deliver the mail in cities and suburbs,  "are given a half-hour unpaid lunch period. They do not need to stay at their postal vehicle during that time; they simply need to properly park and secure their vehicle. The lunch period does not push them over 40 hours a week or otherwise contribute to overtime."

Go to bit.ly/LIsummer for more on employees who might be eligible — or not — for unemployment benefits during school breaks.

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