Get There Early

Some of us are habitually on time for events, or even early.  Others are habitually late and in some instances such tardiness can be the target of jokes or good natured kidding.  However, in this age of recession and high unemployment being late for work not only can lead to dismissal from your job, but also render the worker ineligible for unemployment compensation, leading to disastrous financial consequences for the worker and that person’s family.

In Pennsylvania unless the employee has a contract for employment he or she is an “at-will” employee.  This means the job can fire an employee for almost any reason whatsoever (as long as it is not discriminatory).  It goes without saying then if the employee is habitually late for work the employer can fire that worker.  Thereafter, if the fire worker files for unemployment compensation, it is likely that the worker will be denied unemployment benefits.

In a recent case the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court was asked to decide if an employee’s habitual lateness was “willful misconduct” thereby preventing the employee from qualifying for unemployment benefits.  The Commonwealth Court considered that over the course of the employee’s 4 years with the company she had been reprimanded four times for being late for work.  In the three week period leading up to the worker’s termination she was late six times, with the worker being late at least 30 minutes for work in five of those instances.  The worker was then given a written warning, after which she began a scheduled vacation.  On the first day back from vacation the worker was 45 minutes late for work, resulting in her termination.

The employee sought unemployment benefits, which were denied.  She requested a hearing at which she claimed that she had good cause for being late on the first day back from vacation.  The Unemployment Referee determined that the employee did not have valid cause for her tardiness and that the habitual lateness was “willful misconduct”, making the employee ineligible for unemployment compensation.  The worker appealed to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, which upheld the denial.  She then appeal to the Commonwealth Court.

On appeal the Commonwealth Court agreed with the previous decisions.  The Court stated that where there is the existence of specific work rules the employer has the right to expect a certain standard of behavior from the employee.  The Court also noted that sometimes there are situations where a specific rule is unnecessary, and such an instance is when an employee fails to show up for work on time.  The Court wrote, “…chronic tardiness, particularly after a warning, exhibits a sufficient disregard of the employer’s interests to constitute willful misconduct.”  The Court also pointed out that Pennsylvania law does not require a detailed termination policy regarding tardiness or specific notice that future lateness will result in termination.  If the employee’s lateness is habitual and that fact is known or made known to the employee, future tardiness is unacceptable.

The best course of action is be early and be early often.  If you have a habit of running late for work, change the habit and make it customary that you are early. Failing to do so may not only lead to termination from work, but also to disqualification from unemployment benefits following termination.

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