Chicago Woman Fired for Doing Work at Lunch Wins Unemployment Claim

doctorwho_guru.†=♡ 2012/01/17 20:44:04

Sharon Smiley had worked for 10 years as a receptionist and administrative assistant at a Chicago real estate company until she was fired for skipping lunch one day. After a two-year battle, an appeals court in Illinois has found that denial of her unemployment benefits was "clearly erroneous."

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.

Read More: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/chicago-woman-fired...

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Top Opinion

  • lm1b2 2012/01/17 21:11:27
    Their is something going on here that we are not being told,You don't fire a employee for working on their unpaid lunch hour.They evidently wanted to get rid of her,and used this incident to do it.

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  • Brosia - KarmaRaven 2012/02/16 00:37:37
    Brosia - KarmaRaven
    Good for her for not lying down and taking it. So many people (like my husband) might be eligible for some form of benefits, but they get denied and just give up.
  • wolfshadow 2012/01/18 07:50:31
    People can fire you for whatever they want... even dumbass reasons such as this...

    There is no reason that her unemployment claim should have ever been denied... WORK is not misconduct.
  • lucythetooth 2012/01/18 02:12:09
    I eat at my desk all the time. That's pretty much the only place I do eat. I think there was more than just that going on and they were looking for a reason to get rid of her and avoid paying the unemployment.
  • HiYa 2012/01/18 01:30:56
    I've seen this sorta of stupid firing before. They probably made her life a living hell, before they finally let her go.
  • Max7 2012/01/18 01:01:17
    That company for whatever reason was just looking for an excuse to fire her, and to fire someone for working through lunch is trivial.
  • Melicious Kiss of PHAET 2012/01/17 22:32:26
    Melicious Kiss of PHAET
    You know it's funny. We were told we were not allowed to work during our lunches.

    If the company saw value in her employment after 10 years, I wonder what mine saw in me after 17 years? The length of time at a company doesn't matter any longer.
  • Grabitz 2012/01/17 21:43:02
    Thats what unions are good for .
  • sjalan 2012/01/17 21:42:15 (edited)
    If she had been with the company for over 10 years it is obvious that the company saw value in her employement. I would think that going above and beyond the call of duty on her own time would warrant commendation NOT termination.

    Sounds to me that the Human Resources dept had it in for her and had someone else in mind for the job.

    These are a few of the companies that EquityLifeStyle http://www.equitylifestyle.com/


    Dozens of mobil home parks as well as the manufacturing of mobil homes. The also own Thousand Trail/NACO

    Associate companies

    Equity LifeStyle Family (They call it family but is it really?

    Encore RV Resorts
    Equity Lifestyle Properties
    Resort Parks International
    Trailblazer Magazine

    RV Dealers

    Priority RV Network

    McMahon's RV

    Leisure Time RV (Central Florida)

    Media Camping Center

    Holiday World of Houston

    Dixie RV Superstore

    RV Rentals
    Bates International

    Clubs and Informative Sites
    Family Motor Coach Association
    RV Travel
    Club Blazer
  • lm1b2 2012/01/17 21:11:27
    Their is something going on here that we are not being told,You don't fire a employee for working on their unpaid lunch hour.They evidently wanted to get rid of her,and used this incident to do it.
  • DiViews2015 2012/01/17 21:11:19
    Sounds like there was a definite personality clash involved her. Who gets fired for service and devotion? I am glad she found employment and I hope it is a better position.
  • The Elitist Libtard SodaJerk 2012/01/17 20:56:28

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