by Carrie Mason-Draffen (

DEAR CARRIE:  I work for a private security company that provides guards to a school district. As such, there are numerous days off, sometimes more than a week at a time. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Since I’m employed by a private company and not the school district, can I submit a claim for unemployment benefits to cover the long breaks? — Breaks Break the Bank

DEAR BREAKS: Unemployment-eligibility questions are some of the toughest to answer because many factors can come into play in a single case. That’s why the standard advice of the state Labor Department is to file and hear what comes back.

Unemployment benefit decisions “are made on a case-by-case basis based on details from both the employee and the employer, and without all the information, DOL can’t definitively determine eligibility for benefits,” a spokesman said.

But if your break is considered a temporary layoff, you might not be eligible for benefits, an employment lawyer said.

“New York State does not permit an employee to collect unemployment benefits for a temporary layoff only,” said Christine Malafi, a partner at Campolo, Middleton & McCormick in Ronkonkoma.

And employers must make the status of the break clear ahead of time, she said.

“To avoid payment of unemployment benefits, there must be an agreement between the employer and the employee, prior to the layoff, that the layoff is for a definite period only,” she said. “Therefore, if the private security company’s handbook or the employee’s employment agreement or written offer letter state that his or her work days follow the school calendar, the break would be considered a temporary layoff only, not eligible for benefits.”

But she stressed that each situation is unique, “and the very specifics of [this employee’s] employment may entitle him or her to benefits.”

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