Dear J.T. & Dale: The company I work for was sold, and I went to work for the new owners. Recently my hours have been reduced to nothing. It might be 10 hours one week, nine the next. I have looked for other employment, but no one is hiring. I want to apply for unemployment, but if my employers call me, I have to work. If I don't, that's a refusal, and unemployment would be denied anyway. Any advice? - Ned

J.T.: Sadly, this is a common way for a company to get employees to leave voluntarily. By cutting your hours, they are hoping that you'll find another job, thus saving them from having to fire you or pay unemployment.

Dale: Well, yours is a dreary set of assumptions. But what if, instead, we assume the best - that the new owners are kindly spreading the work around rather than laying people off. This would open up some appealing options, including the chance to become a star employee. You could: (1) Suggest ways to cut costs that might add more hours for you, such as taking over some duties that are now outsourced (making deliveries, say, or Web site updates). (2) Volunteer to help open up new markets for the company's services, or suggest new services to offer. (For instance, I know one company that makes packaging equipment that has greatly expanded a service that updates old equipment.)

J.T.: Good point. However, if assuming the best doesn't work, do some research on unemployment benefits. For instance, there's a good site at Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut (larcc.org). It suggests that someone reduced to part-time status can be eligible for unemployment benefits without leaving the company. Let's conclude with their excellent advice: ... because the Department of Labor uses a complicated formula to determine if you can get benefits ... the best way to find out if you are eligible is to apply.