Firing of employee for working at lunch

by Walter Olson on January 22, 2012

It makes no seeming sense unless you’re aware of the grim legalities for employers whose “nonexempt” employees work off the clock [Richard Bales/Workplace Prof, BoingBoing, ABC "Good Morning America"]

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Illinois Employee Fired For Working During Lunch Break Generates Press | The Laconic Law Blog
02.07.12 at 3:37 pm

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1 ctrees 01.22.12 at 9:54 am

When I used to work at Target, I saw this a few times. Probably the most common cause for firing was repeatedly failing to clock out for lunch in time. It was all down to Target getting fined if employees weren’t in compliance.

2 Russell Thomas 01.22.12 at 10:08 am

Discharge seems unnecessarily harsh, unless there was prior misconduct; however, in an age of wage-hour class actions and individual wage claims, employers now believe that they must follow the law to the letter.

3 smart dude 01.22.12 at 12:13 pm

This is Socialist Europe “Lite.”

Take Spain or France, for example. The workplace regulations are so onerous, that the only hires are for these strictly part time or temporary workers. Young people have no chance of ever having a decent job.

We are fast approaching this in the US.

4 ctrees 01.22.12 at 12:31 pm

@Russel in the case of Target, it was three offenses within six months, i believe. In this case, who knows. Obviously the court thought it was overly harsh.

5 bob neal 01.22.12 at 12:52 pm

Employers are in a no win situation. In California, if an employee fails to take a lunch or takes it too late, the employer is required to pay a one hour penalty. So, the employee’s failure to follow policy costs the employer and rewards the employee. Employers have little choice but to take action against the offending employee. For those of you saying “it’s too harsh” I ask, what if the employee instead stole $15 from the employer? Same net result to the employer.

6 Robert 01.22.12 at 4:25 pm

If you read the details (surprsingly, GMA has the most), you’ll see that she had been warned several times before about working through lunch and eating at her desk. (Because she had the receptionists desk; the first thing customers saw when they came in, it was an appearance issue.)

It’s not as clear-cut as the headlines make it seem.

Still, it seems like a case where this employee just didn’t understand how much liability an employer can face if an employee suggests that there were pressured to work through lunch. But, assuming they took the time to carefully explain the issue to her, and she still did it, then they had no choice.

7 Bob Neal 01.23.12 at 7:35 am

Robert, why in the world is it the employer’s responsibility to explain to the employee just how much legal liability it faces by her failure to abide by its clear instructions? “Gee truck driver, don’t run that red light because I could get sued and lose millions if you hurt someone” as opposed to “obey the law”?

She was warned not to engage in the conduct – regardless of the employer’s motive (in this case a good one). She was appropriately termed and should not collect one dime more. The law seems less and less relevant to the courts and administrative agencies these days, it’s all about agenda.

8 Confused 01.23.12 at 2:45 pm

I’m confused with “at will” states and unemployment.

If they can be be fired for any reason; why does the unemployment office get to “consider” anything. Unless the employment ended do to a criminal conviction; “at will” states should ALWAYS be required to pay unemployment, eg the price they should have to pay for being an “at will”.

9 David Schwartz 01.24.12 at 12:29 am

Confused: It’s hard to respond to your argument because you don’t present any rationale. You just state a conclusion. But even with “at will” employment, it’s quite possible (and, IMO, reasonable) to draw a distinction for unemployment compensation purposes between a person who is fired because they don’t show up for work and a person who is fired because the company’s business needs changed.

10 DensityDuck 01.25.12 at 5:06 pm

“Why in the world is it the employer’s responsibility to explain to the employee just how much legal liability it faces by her failure to abide by its clear instructions?”

Because this ain’t the freakin’ Army? “Shut the F’up and F’in do what you’re F’n told” isn’t how we do things out here.

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