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Frequently Asked Questions of Laid-Off Employees

Frequently Asked Questions of Laid-Off Employees

Source: Portland Press Herald

June 22, 2009

As the recession results in business closures, bankruptcies and thousands of layoffs, a growing number of jobless Maine residents are left with questions about their rights and their former employers’ responsibilities.

Maine’s February unemployment rate reached 8 percent as the state lost another 2,600 jobs. For the year ending in February, the state lost 15,500 jobs across all economic sectors.

Back pay, unemployment benefits, health care and retirement plans are some topics that dislocated workers may have to deal with.

But similar questions are also running through the heads of workers who still have jobs. Forty-four percent of Americans are very concerned that they or someone in their household will be laid off in the next year, according to a CBS News poll conducted in early February. The poll of 864 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The guide below provides basic information and resources addressing some of the questions that laid-off Maine workers might have. Information comes from the Maine Labor Department and other state and federal agencies and private advocacy groups.

Q: What happens to my final paycheck?

A: You are legally entitled to your final wages, as well as any vacation pay you’ve earned in accordance with the company’s policies, said Anne Harriman, director of the state Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. That money is due to you on the next regular payday following your termination or within two weeks of demanding the pay from the employer, whichever comes first.

Q: What do I do if my former employer doesn’t give me my final paycheck within that time?

A: The Wage and Hour Division investigates these complaints. You can telephone the state Labor Department’s call center at 623-7900, and your call will be forwarded to an inspector. Employers in violation are liable for three times the amount of the original wages, plus lawyers’ fees. Q: What is the Wage Assurance Fund?

A: The fund can serve as a last resort for workers whose former employers have shut down and have no assets to pay owed wages. The fund, administered by the state Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Standards, may provide up to two weeks’ wages to workers.

Q: Am I entitled to severance pay?

A: You may be owed severance through a contract with your employers, and certain laid-off workers are entitled to severance pay under state law, regardless of an employer’s contractual obligations.

The law covers workplaces that close or relocate to a site more than 100 miles away that has employed at least 100 people within the previous 12 months. An employee of such a workplace is entitled to receive one week’s pay for each year of employment if the worker has been employed there for at least three years.

But there are several circumstances under which such an employer would not have to pay severance. These include relocation or closure because of natural disasters; liquidation through bankruptcy; and when an employee takes a job at the new location.