Receptionist Fired for Working through Lunch Wins Unemployment Appeal

Looks harmless, but this could get you fired.

I know, I didn’t think anyone who volunteered to work through lunch to catch up on some extra assignments would be fired for it, but not only did Chicago receptionist Sharon Smiley get fired – after 10 years of working for the same realty company – she was also accused of insubordination and misconduct.

I bet some of you are re-thinking your willingness to work through a few lunches right now, which is why I’m writing about this news story, even though Smiley technically wasn’t a legal staffer. Still, many people with paralegal degrees would certainly consider realty companies as possible places to use their training and specialized skills.

Seriously, Smiley only worked through lunch the one time, and lost her job at Equity Lifestyle Properties, Inc. in January 2010. Then her former employer challenged her claim for unemployment benefits, which was denied at the state level, and she couldn’t find a lawyer to handle her appeal. She faced the loss of her home and missed many meals, but held things together by bar-tending, working temp jobs, and accepting some help from her church.

The Chicago Tribune reports Smiley’s “horror story” started with her good intentions to catch up on some work:

Her descent to the edge of financial ruin started in January 2010. She had decided not to eat lunch that day, and because another manager assigned her extra work, Smiley wanted to finish it.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’m not hungry; I’ll just do this work … so when I get back from lunch, I can do my original work that I’m supposed to be doing,’ ” she said.

Wow. She should have gotten an A for effort, and not the axe. If the employer didn’t want her working through lunch, HR could have simply thanked her for trying to help catch up, and counseled her not to do it again.

But eventually good intentions triumphed. Smiley got a new receptionist job last month, and won her unemployment appeal by representing herself. It sounds like her new employer is lucky to have this determined, hard-working woman on their team.

But I wonder if she’ll ever volunteer to work through lunch again. Would you?

Source:  The Chicago Tribune; ABA Journal

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