“Can taking time off without permission get you fired?”

Question: My wife works for one of the nation’s largest retail stores in a cashier/customer service position. She has asked for ten days off to help our young daughter and her young family move. She has not heard back anything officially, but it looks like the request will be denied.

If she takes the time off anyway, and is fired for that, does she have any rights? Another employee applies for and gets time off during what the company says are “leave blackout periods,” but she always retains her position, even though like my wife, she is an “at will” employee. Thank you.                                   

Santa Clarita, California

Answer: Dear CP: Sorry for the disappointing news, but absence from work on work days without permission is grounds for firing, without recourse.         

1. Employment is a relation of mutual dependency: the employee depends on the receipt of a paycheck each pay period, and the employer depends on the regularly scheduled efforts of the employee. It’s just that simple: your wife’s employer has customers who require cashiers and customer service representatives, who expect the store to be open on regularly scheduled hours. So, your wife’s employer must be open and staffed those days and hours, and depends on its employees to be present at those times. In turn, your wife depends on her employer not forgetting to pay her wages on the right day, not when it is convenient.

2. Absence from work without permission or an acceptable excuse constitutes grounds for firing in every country, state and city. Small or large, employers everywhere have to juggle a lot of things to remain in business: one of them is their staff hours. To remain employed, employees have to follow their assigned work days and times. While being assigned to work from 1:00 am to 2:00 am every morning would obviously be in bad faith, flexibility and dependability are necessary for both business and employment success. Absence for a ten-day stretch without prior permission would surely be considered grounds for firing and a kind of misconduct, and, for that reason, grounds for denial of unemployment benefits, as well.

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3. For your wife’s employer to treat another employee better than it treats your wife is not illegal, though seemingly unfair, unless the better treatment is being denied your wife due to her (a) age, (b) gender, (c) race, (d) religion, or (e) on some other legally-prohibited basis. Many people believe in error that you cannot treat one employee better than another. Sure you can, just as you can treat one of your children better than another, especially if he or she does more chores, gets better grades, or is willing to clean the catbox without being asked to. That is just how people are: they like some people better than others. The law says, though, you cannot deny better treatment to someone on the basis of certain characteristics, such as their age, their gender, their religion, etc. If by chance your wife feels that is what is being done, then by all means she should register such a complaint, and preferably in an email, but you have not indicated that in your letter to me.

CP, for 30+ years I’ve been both an employee advocate and an employer, so I think I see “both sides” of the issues pretty well. If your wife would like to keep her job, I suggest she find another way to help your daughter and her young family with their move. Jobs are just too hard to find and easy to lose to chance it unnecessarily.

I hope you and your wife will understand that I really do try to “call it as I see it,” and this is exactly as I see it.  

Thanks for writing in. Good luck to your daughter and her family, and good luck to you. 

Al Sklover

Repairing the World –
One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time™  

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P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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