Interstate Brands Corp. had an unwritten policy that required a doctor's note to confirm all absences caused by a work-related injury. When Cynthia Bausman didn't produce a note, she got canned. Bausman sued, claiming the company retaliated against her for filing a workers' comp claim. A federal court let her case go to trial. (Bausman v. Interstate Brands Corp., No. 99-3229, 10th Cir., 2001)
The company messed up on two accounts: by firing a worker for violating an unwritten policy and by blindly following this policy even though it knew about her medical condition. "An employer cannot adopt a workplace policy by which (it) abdicates its duty to see, to hear and to think," the appeals court said.
Advice: If you plan to enforce a policy, put it in writing. Unwritten attendance policies are hard to enforce. Courts view them as prone to erratic interpretation and manipulation.