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Judges affirm employer's attendance policy is unreasonable

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A company lost on appeal its argument that it had just cause to fire an employee after seven absences from work. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with previous findings that the company’s attendance policy is unreasonable.

Employer P.M.T. argued that it had just cause to terminate L.A. because she knowingly violated the attendance policy by taking more than seven absences in a year. Employees are allowed seven absences in a 12-month period, and if an employee accumulates more, he or she will be fired. The policy only allows for jury duty as an excused absence. If a person is out for multiple days due to illness, a doctor’s note will reduce the period to just one day. The policy doesn’t provide exemptions for verified emergencies, and if someone wants to take time off, it must be scheduled two weeks in advance.

L.A. worked for the company for five years and had requested leave through the Family Medical Leave Act to take care of her terminally ill husband. She had two emergency absences – one due to her own health and one that dealt with her husband – that caused her to miss work and put her over the maximum allowed absences, so P.M.T. fired her.

She applied for unemployment and was ultimately awarded those benefits. An administrative law judge found P.M.T.’s attendance policy was unreasonable as a matter of law and the company failed to sufficiently maintain records showing L.A. knowingly violated the policy. The Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development agreed.

In P.M.T., Inc. v. Review Board of the Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development and L.A., No. 93A02-1105-EX-389, the Court of Appeals also found P.M.T.’s policy to be unreasonable based on the lack of exemptions for both extended personal illness and verified emergencies. The court found that the policy in place doesn’t protect its employees as is required by Jeffboat Inc. v. Rev. Board of Ind. Emp’t Sec. Div., 464 N.E.2d 377, 380 (Ind. Ct. App. 1984). The policy doesn’t protect employees with legitimate reasons for an absence and is contrary to the stated intention of the Legislature to “provide for payment of benefits to persons unemployed through no fault of their own,” wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik, citing Indiana Code 22-4-1-1.

The appellate court also found that L.A.’s absences that resulted in her termination were a result of circumstances beyond her control.

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