The Chicago Employment Law Blog

Woman Fired for Working Through Lunch, Wins Unemployment

Most employers would love a hard-working employee who sacrifices her own needs and works through lunch to get the job done, right? Not quite. In this highly litigious age, an employee working through lunch may create more headaches for a company than any work she can possibly accomplish in a 30-minute period.

Sharon Smiley was fired from her job of ten years at a Chicago real estate company for working through lunch. There was nothing wrong with her termination, but an Illinois court found that the woman was entitled to unemployment benefits.

Smiley worked as a receptionist and administrative assistant at Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc. About two years ago, the hard worker clocked out for lunch, but remained at her desk performing work for the company, reports ABC.

While Smiley may have thought she was doing a good thing, she was in fact exposing her employer to a wage and hour lawsuit. Generally, non-exempt employees like receptionists and assistants must be paid for every minute they work. By clocking out, there was no way for Equity Lifestyle to track how much time Smiley was working.

Additionally, Illinois state law requires non-exempt employees to take 20 minute meal breaks if they work at least five hours in a day. By working through lunch, Smiley exposed Equity Lifestyle to the wrath of the Illinois Department of Labor.

Employees should know that when they are told to take a break or eat lunch, they should take a break and eat lunch. Employers have rules in place for a reason, and a single employee's decision to break these rules can expose an employer to significant liability.

Sharon Smiley was fired for working through lunch and rightfully so. But, at least she can collect unemployment benefits now.

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