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Rochester paralegal’s job goes up in smoke

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in Employee Benefits Program,Firing,Human Resources

The Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, upheld the firing of Karen Kridel, a former paralegal with Dibble & Miller, PC, in Rochester, for taking smoking breaks.

Kridel customarily took two five-minute breaks from her work each day to smoke. In October 2006, the firm sent an e-mail prohibiting hourly employees from taking breaks other than for lunch. The policy exempted salaried workers, who remained free to leave the office at any time.

Gerald Dibble, a partner in the firm, said the policy had always existed, but previously had not been enforced. The firm said it decided to crack down after finding employees were abusing their breaks, stretching them out to half an hour or longer. “We came in one day, and all the smokers are out and so are the nonsmokers in the reception area. We had no one to answer telephones,” Dibble told WROC-TV News 8.

Kridel applied for unemployment benefits and received them. The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board later disqualified her, however, finding she was fired for misconduct. The New York Supreme Court upheld that decision, and further found that Kridel made “willful misrepresentations” on her application for benefits. It found Kridel’s unemployment application indicated that she was terminated due to a lack of work.

Kridel argued unsuccessfully that it was unfair to allow breaks for salaried workers when hourly workers were denied them. She also argued that someone addicted to cigarettes can’t simply stop smoking.

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