Friday, January 27, 2012

Fired for Working Through Lunch - COTW #76

When two co-workers email you a case, the mainstream media picks up on it, and it has already hit the blogosphere... it's probably a good case of the week. The Case of the Week is an unemployment compensation case involving Sharon Smiley and a Chicago real estate company.

The gist of the story is that an employer fired a woman because she worked through her lunch break. Cue the moral outrage! Well, after a two-year battle, she finally won her unemployment compensation benefits.

 Shockingly (I say sarcastically) the employer may have actually had a reason for doing this. They had a policy requiring employees to take 30-minute lunch breaks. Maybe they think lunch breaks help keep their employees refreshed and motivated. Or maybe the employer has the policy because Illinois law requires employers to provide lunch breaks.

In any event, what could be more basic than an employer's right to set the schedules of its employees? In a previous Case of the Week, I covered a similar situation. An employee was fired for working too much. I explained that employees working through breaks could, and in that case did, also lead to FLSA lawsuits.

It seems like employers are stuck. They can't allow employees to work through breaks. If they enforce the break policy they might be stuck paying UC benefits (and/or facing an FLSA lawsuit anyway and/or facing the righteous condemnation of the media). What's an employer to do? Robin Shea has some tips on her blog entry on this case: OFF-CLOCK WORK: "Flintstone" laws in a "Buck Rogers" world.

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.