By The Editor
A former receptionist for a real estate agency in the American city of Chicago has won her two-year battle for unemployment benefits, after she was dismissed for working through her lunch break.
Sharon Smiley had worked for her employer for 10 years and ‘punched out’ to commence her lunch break on a workday in January 2010, but remained at her desk to work on a project.
Ms Smiley’s manager saw her working and instructed her to take a 30 minute break, as per the company’s policy for lunch breaks.
However Ms Smiley continued to work on the project, prompting the manager to involve the company’s human resources department, who told her that by refusing to take a break, she was in breach of state labour laws.
Her employer was also worried about the impact on her health, given Ms Smiley has suffered a stroke during the previous year and missed three months of work.
She was then dismissed because her refusal to leave her desk constituted misconduct, which subsequently denied her the right to receive unemployment benefits.
“I knew you couldn’t eat lunch at your desk,” Ms Smiley told ABC America. “I was under the impression that because I was punched out I could do what I want.”
After three separate appeals to obtain unemployment benefits were denied, Ms Smiley took her case to a local court, which found her “insubordination arose from her efforts to perform additional work…beyond what was required of her”.
The court also commented that it was the first time she had ever been instructed to leave her desk for lunch, and the meeting preceding her dismissal took only four minutes.
Ms Smiley said she was now employed at a receptionist at another company, with a more relaxed lunch policy.