Companies now have all sorts of different rules regarding smoking during the workday. Did you ever wonder what would happen if an employee broke one of those rules? Now we know how one company handled the situation and that its decision has held up in court.
Karen Kridel worked for a Rochester, NY, law firm as a paralegal and was paid hourly. Every day she took two five-minute smoke breaks — one each in the morning and afternoon. She said she made up the time she took during the breaks.
Then the law firm banned smoking breaks for hourly employees but allowed them for salaried workers such as lawyers.
Kridel continued to take her two smoke breaks each day. The law firm fired her for misconduct.
She applied for unemployment benefits are received $3,000 worth before an appeal board disqualified her on the grounds that she was fired for misconduct. Kridel had originally told the unemployment office she was let go for lack of work.
She appealed the decision to take away her unemployment benefits.
Kridel is quoted by law.com as saying, “If you’re addicted to cigarettes, you can’t just do that,” referring to the sudden cut off of smoke breaks. “Within an eight-hour day, you are entitled to take a break in the morning and in the afternoon,” she said. “I didn’t expect to get fired for smoking.”
A partner in the law firm, Gerald Dibble, wouldn’t speak directly about Kridel’s case. He said five-minute breaks were being drawn out to 15 minutes or even a half hour. Some nonsmokers even joined the smokers just to chat.
The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division upheld the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board’s decision to deny Kridel benefits, noting that she was fired for misconduct and that she misstated the reason she was let go from the law firm.
Kridel has also been ordered to pay back the $3,070.50 in unemployment insurance benefits she received.
This case shows that rules for salaried and hourly employees at the same company are often different — and that those policy differences will hold up in court.
What do you think about this case? And how do you handle complaints from hourly employees that salaried workers appear to receive special privileges? You can let us know in the comments box below.