Court: No unemployment for excessively-absent employee

It’s not a very good idea to test your company’s absentee policy by being absent. That’s the upshot of a decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court today.

The Court ruled that you can be fired for excessive absenteeism, even if your company has a progressive discipline policy on the subject. It ruled in the case of Ronald Stagg, who was fired by a group home for troubled youth.

The company for which Stagg worked –Vintage Place — has a policy providing for an oral warning on the first unexcused absence, a written warning for the second one, a three-day suspension for the third, a 10-day suspension for the fourth, and firing for the fifth.

Does that give you four unexcused absences before being fired? No, the court said.

Here’s how it described Stagg’s firing:

Stagg began having tardiness and attendance problems in November 2008. On November 15, 2008, Stagg missed mandatory training and, according to Vintage Place, gave no advance notice. On November 26, Stagg, without notifying his supervisor, did not show up for work. As a result, he received an oral warning. On November 27, Stagg arrived for his shift two hours late without advance notice and was placed on probation. On December 1, Stagg called in sick after his shift began. It does not appear from the record before us that Stagg was disciplined for the December 1 absence. On December 3, Stagg arrived for work 45 minutes late without advance notice and was given a two-day suspension. On January 28, 2009, Stagg called in after his shift began to say that he had overslept. The following day, Stagg was fired.

Stagg claimed that because he had not received a 10-day suspension — the last step short of termination under his company’s policy — he did not understand that his job was at risk.

An unemployment law judge denied his unemployment claim, but the Court of Appeals overturned the decision.

Today, the Supreme Court said “an employee’s expectation that the employer will follow its disciplinary procedures has no bearing on whether the employee’s conduct violated the standards the employer has a reasonable right to expect or whether any such violation is serious.”

The Court left open, however, the possibility of a future claim that an employer’s handbook constitutes a contract between the employer and employee.

Read the full decision here.

  • John P.

    We have a similar policy where I work. The opposite situation exists. People keep going beyond the point where they are supposed to be fired, but it never happens.

    As I understand this decision, it says the employer can fire you for absence whatever the written policy is, so I suppose they could also decide not to fire at will as well.

    It seems like whether the employee handbook is a contract would be key, so I wonder why the court left it open.

    I am no lawyer, but these are the questions that come into my mind.

  • Ronald Stagg

    I have been trying to understand why this case was ever presented in any court of law to begin with.

    My employers’ know and knew how loyal I was to Vintage Place and I am just saddend to see that dispite the face that Vintage Place had no grounds to stand on the court has chosen to rule in their favor.

    I will take this opportunity to apologize now for all the people that will be affected both emotionally and financially because of this ruling in the future.