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Woman Fired for Working During Lunch ' Illinois Labor Laws '

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by Rocketman1981, Jan 17, 2012.

  1. Rocketman1981

    Rocketman1981 Member

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    http://gma.yahoo.com/chicago-woman-...s-unemployment-claim-145926016--abc-news.html

    Chicago Woman Fired for Doing Work at Lunch Wins Unemployment Claim
    By SUSANNA KIM | Good Morning America – Mon, Jan 16, 2012 9:59 AM EST


    Smiley, 48, punched out of work for lunch Jan. 28, 2010, but remained at her desk to finish a project assigned by a manager because she did not plan to eat that day, she said.

    Smiley, who had passed her 10-year anniversary with the company more than a month before, said another manager told her it was time for her to go to lunch and step away from her desk, but she refused. That manager observed Smiley working on a spreadsheet on her computer, answering the phone and responding to questions by people who approached her desk, according to a filing from the appellate court of Illinois.

    Her former employer, Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc., did not return a request for comment.

    The company's human resources director then became involved, explaining that hourly non-exempt employees were required to take a 30-minute lunch break, a policy that had been in the company handbook for 10 years, according to the filing. Not following the policy would be a violation of Illinois' labor laws, the HR director said.

    The prominent location of Smiley's desk, "which was directly at the front door of the office, made this particularly important for her," according to the human resources director in the court filing. She and Smiley had "many discussions ... over her eating breakfast at her desk," the filing states

    "I knew you couldn't eat lunch at your desk," Smiley told ABC News. "I was under the impression that because I was punched out and I could do what I want."

    Smiley said her job had became so stressful that she suffered a stroke and was off work for almost three months, beginning July 13, 2009, according to the court filing.

    Like several states, Illinois has a law that requires employers to provide employees a lunch break. But the law cannot be read to require an employer to fire a worker who refuses to take a break in order to finish her work, said Michael LeRoy, law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    "Nonetheless, Illinois is an employment-at-will state, which means the employer can fire someone for a good reason, no reason, or a bad reason, as long as it is not discriminatory," he said.

    Companies often have policies that are designed to limit the number of hours employees can work in a given day or week, largely in order to avoid overtime pay obligations, Cheryl Anderson, law professor with Southern Illinois University School of Law, said. Such policies often require employer permission to work beyond an employee's regular scheduled hours.

    After being fired, Smiley learned she was ineligible for unemployment benefits because she had been discharged for misconduct connected with her work.

    She appealed to the Illinois Department of Employment Security's board of review three times, was denied, then took her case to a circuit court. That court ruled Smiley, who did not challenge the firing, was eligible for benefits.

    Smiley received a check with a lump sum on Nov. 28 for several months of unemployment, a percentage of her previous salary. Then she received a check every two weeks for $528 until she obtained her latest job last month.

    The appellate court of Illinois affirmed the circuit court ruling Jan. 11, saying the "insubordination arose from [Smiley's] efforts to perform additional work for [her employer], beyond what was required of her," as first reported Monday in the Chicago Tribune.

    "The insubordination occurred in a meeting with her superiors which lasted only four minutes," the court ruling stated.

    The court ruling also said there was evidence that managers had been able to work with her in the past to perform new tasks with which she was uncomfortable.

    An unemployed person in Illinois is qualified for unemployment unless there is misconduct, which "has been defined as conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer's interests," according to the state's legal test in a ruling from the board of review.

    "Workers generally have to be guilty of gross misconduct, which includes insubordination," professor Anderson said. "The bar is set high for the employer to prove that, and in this case, the court found the employer's argument that her actions amounted to insubordination to be inadequate."

    In the case that established the precedent in 1987, an ambulance driver was fired after having four minor accidents in three months backing up a vehicle. The hearing officer and state agency denied his unemployment claim, but the state supreme court said the law requires "evil design" or wanton disregard of its interests, and that test was not satisfied.

    "If the ambulance driver with four accidents in three months qualified for a benefit, then by implication, Ms. Smiley did, too," professor LeRoy said.

    After nine months of unemployment, Smiley obtained a similar job at another company on Dec. 13. She said her new employer has a more liberal lunch policy.

    "They told me I could sit at my desk, I could be at my computer during lunch, or I could look at magazines. And in my area, they have two flat-screen TVs on the wall," she said with a chuckle.
     
  2. CometsWin

    CometsWin Breaker Breaker One Nine

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    Working at your desk for free doesn't sound like wanton disregard of a company's interests to me.
     
  3. Dairy Ashford

    Dairy Ashford Member

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    I think it's great that Illinois's legislature and judiciary made the extra effort to clarify their unemployment laws, but I really don't understand the incredulity about some annoying idiot being fired for unnecessarily and repeatedly disobeying their boss.
     
  4. Kyakko

    Kyakko Contributing Member

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    It doesn't sound like she got a long with her supervisors and that they were just using the lunch break as an excuse to fire her.

    "Nonetheless, Illinois is an employment-at-will state, which means the employer can fire someone for a good reason, no reason, or a bad reason, as long as it is not discriminatory"

    If that was the case, the only problem I have with her being fired is that they should have just been honest and told her it wasn't working out.
     
  5. Major

    Major Member

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    What is there to debate here? It just sounds like an incompetent company or one looking for a reason to fire her.
     
  6. CometsWin

    CometsWin Breaker Breaker One Nine

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    She is black so there ya go, entitlement society yadda yadda.
     
  7. Space Ghost

    Space Ghost Contributing Member

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    The difference is her eligibility to collect unemployment benefits.
     
  8. dachuda86

    dachuda86 Member

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    Companies will build a case to fire you regardless of why the really want you gone. It's quite easy.
     
  9. kyle_R

    kyle_R Member

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    You can be fired for the same thing in Texas. An hourly employee who clocks out but stays on the job and works at that point isn't covered by a company's insurance, she goes and gets hurt or hurts someone else, they're looking at a much bigger problem than an upset former employee.
     
  10. kyle_R

    kyle_R Member

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    Any standard Warning or Disciplinary notice sheet will have "Clocking out Early" or "Working off the Clock" as a reason for action. It's a company safety guard.
     
  11. Amel

    Amel Contributing Member

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    Lady works for free = let's fire her...

    buhahahah
     
  12. rocketsjudoka

    rocketsjudoka Contributing Member

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    I was guessing there was more to this story.
     
  13. Rocketman95

    Rocketman95 Hangout Boy

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    Yep. My company has always been very adamant about this with the hourly employees.
     
  14. Major

    Major Member

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    Yes - but I'm still not sure the relevance. She got fired for insubordination by a stupid company with a stupid policy. Those exist everywhere. The original poster mentioned Illinois labor laws, which seem pretty irrelevant here except that it's an at-will employment state, so people can be fired for any reason. But given the OP's political stance towards government and business, I can't imagine he's opposed to at-will employment.
     
  15. Bandwagoner

    Bandwagoner Contributing Member

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    They have the same law that an employer must provide 30 minute lunch break. She was in a position of high visibility.
     
  16. Classic

    Classic Member

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    I think this could be an issue here. I've read a couple workers comp cases where employees have gotten hurt 'off the clock' where the insurance company denies the claim because they're not subject to the liability while said employee is not 'on the clock' but they were in fact on premises doing work related activities. The cases obviously differ for the different types of classifications that one can have within an organization and what 'on the clock' means (like outside sales persons) but the fact she was a clerical role could give the company uninsured exposure.

    Not to say that was absolutely the case here and it sounds like they maybe wanted to fire her but there may be liabilities this company must assume in circumstances like this that we may be unaware of.
     
  17. Major

    Major Member

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    The employer did provide a 30 minute lunch break. The employer is not required to force her to eat - they are required to give her the opportunity to eat.
     
  18. Major

    Major Member

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    She's sitting at her desk. She's at more risk of injury getting up and going to the cafeteria or break room to eat than she is by sitting where she is. Employers take that risk every day when employees are coming in before clocking in and leaving before clocking out.
     
  19. Bandwagoner

    Bandwagoner Contributing Member

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    And on the flip side if they said eat at your desk or while you work they would be sued for workplace violations. In her place of high visibility it makes sense to make her use break areas.

    Also in her place of high visibility it isn't exactly professional to be eating at your desk.
     
  20. Major

    Major Member

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    But she wasn't eating.
     

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