A receptionist in Chicago, Illinois was terminated by her employer for clocking out for her lunch break and continuing to work and was eventually awarded unemployment benefits. The case has generated a significant amount of press and television coverage, but is actually the result of onerous state laws mandating meal and rest periods and the efforts of employers to comply with them and avoid class action litigation. More after the break.
A manager instructed the employee that it was time for her to go to lunch and step away from her desk, but the employee refused and continued to work. To comply with Illinois law, the employer maintained a policy which required non-exempt employee to take a 30-minute lunch break. Like several other states, Illinois has a law that requires employers to provide employees with a meal break.
After her termination, the employee was denied unemployment benefits by the Illinois Department of Employment Security because she had been discharged for misconduct connected with her work. An Illinois Court of Appeal reversed and held that the denial of the employee’s unemployment benefits in this situation was clearly erroneous as the employee’s insubordination arose from her efforts to perform additional work for her employer.
Although it seems illogical to fire an employee who is willing to work through his or her meal period, employee claims for working off the clock and failing to provide meal periods in compliance with state laws can give rise to significant liability for employers.