Courts have little patience for inflexible “a rule is a rule” policies

Sometimes, you have to take a step back and consider the consequences before enforcing a rule against an employee. Take, for example, a strict call-off rule that allows for no deviation.

Recent case: Donna worked for a security firm as a command center operator on the night shift. The employer had a strict attendance and call-off policy in order to maintain adequate staffing.

When Donna developed a cardiac condition, she needed corrective surgery. She was approved for FMLA leave for surgery and recovery. As she prepared to return, her surgeon told her that if she felt weak or ill, she should rest and not go to work.

The day she was scheduled to return, she called off, citing illness. She worked the next day, but then called off again, explaining to her manager that she was experiencing illness related to her heart. He told her she needed a doctor’s note. She called off again.

Her supervisor called HR, recommending discharge even though she was a good employee, because “policy is policy.” HR approved the termination and the supervisor fired Donna via a text message.

She applied for unemployment benefits and the employer argued she committed willful misconduct by calling off in violation of the rule.

The court said calling off when she was ill was not misconduct and awarded benefits. (Klampfer v. UCBR, Commonwealth Court, 2018)

Final note: Donna may have an FMLA retaliation or ADA claim, too.