Help Wanted: Paid time off with caveat

If a company gives its employees a day

If a company gives its employees a day off on the day of the funeral of the founder and owner, the message to employees must state the terms of the promise, experts say. (Credit: iStock)

Carrie Mason-Draffen

Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen Carrie Mason-Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.

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DEAR CARRIE: Recently, the founding father and owner of a small business I work for passed away. The announcement of his death went out via an email that included details about a memorial service and the company's plan to close on that day and give employees a paid day off.

The following week, managers were called to see which employees attended the service. I found out this was done so that only those who attended the service got the paid day off.

Those who didn't attend had to use a discretionary or vacation day in order to get paid. And those employees that were either sick or on vacation or other otherwise unable to go to the service were ineligible for the paid day off.

I attended the service, but when I found that other employees were not paid for the time off, I thought the company might have made a boo-boo. I know that a company doesn't have to provide paid time off, but I remember once hearing that if some full-time or part-time employees got a paid day off, then all full-time and part-time employees were entitled to the same. Am I right? -- PTO Discrimination?

DEAR PTO: Such a law would be great from an employee's standpoint. But I have never heard of such an all-inclusive paid-time-off regulation. A lawyer I spoke to hasn't either; he says your employer's policy may be legal.

"As long as there is no discrimination on the basis of some protected category [for example, race, age, sex, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation], there is no rule that requires some employees to receive a paid day off just because certain other employees have received a paid day off," said employment attorney Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan.

Bear in mind neither federal nor state labor laws require employers to give employees paid time off, unless the companies promise to do so.

"There is a rule that an employer must keep any promises it chooses to make with regard to paid time off," Kass said. "Therefore, if the email stated that employees would get a paid day off, and there was no mention that attendance at the memorial service was required, then the employer must keep that promise."

DEAR CARRIE: My son's girlfriend gave a two-week notice and had two weeks of unused vacation she hoped to get paid for. But her employer, a California-based company, maintains that she doesn't have to be paid for her unused vacation time because she works in New York. Is that true? -- PTO Vanishing Act

DEAR PTO VANISHING: It's true, as long as the company's policy states that. New York labor laws don't require companies to offer paid time off. When companies do offer that, they can set the terms, including a provision that says employees forfeit all unused vacation time when they leave the company. But the policy has to say that, otherwise employees have to be paid for the unused days.

DEAR READERS: Thanks for all your wonderful questions throughout the year that kept this column interesting. They ranged from the cashier who wanted to know about her rights because her managers gave her a hard time when she needed a bathroom break, to the Grinch doctor who threatened to deduct money from an office worker's check because she made an appointment for a patient whose insurance the doctor didn't accept.

And your many questions about pay issues after superstorm Sandy helped to illuminate what employers were required -- or not required -- to do.

Thanks to all, and I look forward to more intriguing questions in the New Year.

For more on state law and paid-time off, go to http://bit.ly/AkPTqT and http://bit.ly/ZbIoCu.