Absenteeism Can Be a Real Problem When You are Seeking Benefits
Excessive and chronic absenteeism is grounds for discharge from your job that will disqualify you from collecting benefits if your absences are without justifiable cause.
In general, if you are discharged from your employment for any kind of misconduct, you are disqualified from collecting benefits. Unapproved or excessive absenteeism is one of the specific acts of misconduct listed under the statute. OESC § 2-406; Okla. Stat. tit. 40 § 2-406.
In fact, absenteeism is one of the most common reasons for a disqualifying discharge, and has been consistently held to be misconduct when the absence is without justifiable cause, without timely notice given to the employer, and without the employer’s permission.
One of the most important exemptions is for illness. Illness occurs through no fault of the employee. Unemployment benefits are meant to help a worker who has separated from their employment through no fault of their own.
Absenteeism due to illness makes it difficult for an employer to run his or her business, but it does not constitute willful misconduct and thus, does not preclude an employee from collecting unemployment benefits. Vester v. Board of Review of Oklahoma Employment Sec.Com’n., 697 P2d 533 (Okla. 1985). An employer may require a doctor’s note for an illness.
This issue becomes particularly relevant if the employer uses a point system that tracks absences but not the reasons for the absences. An employer cannot dictate internal company policies to the Employment Commission. Thus, any point system which makes illness an infraction – moving that employee toward separation from their employment – is not binding as to the decision of the commission in adjudicating the issue of that employee’s misconduct.
However, where an employee failed to follow the company attendance policy by failing to call in his or her absence and failing to submit a medical statement in support of his absence, benefits were denied. It has been held that the employee’s actions were a willful disregard of the employer’s interests. Tynes v. Uniroyal Tire Co. et al., 679 P2d 1310 (Okla. App. 1984); 90 AT 4805 BR.
In contrast, benefits were allowed in a case when the employee was discharged for excessive absences where the employee notified the employer and produced a doctor’s statement for every absence. (89 AT 2478 BR)
Likewise, benefits were allowed when an employee had a medical problem which required surgery and two weeks off from work. It was held that a medical problem is not an act of misconduct. (81 BR 1998)
Whether or not the absences are within the employee’s control is an important factor in determining benefits. In an example where an employee had excessive absences but explained or reported each occurrence to her employer, and there was no evidence that the absences were within the employee’s control, there was no misconduct and benefits were allowed. (89 AT 2524 BR)
If your employer requires documents to support your absences and gives you a deadline to produce that documentation and you fail to do so, benefits may be denied. That was the case where an employee had failed to do anything more than to call the doctor’s office to request a doctor’s statement. The employer’s deadline passed and the employer had not produced any paperwork. Benefits were denied. (17 AT 10849 BR)
As you can tell from these cases, small details can matter quite a bit in terms of an outcome. If you are seeking benefits it is important you consult with an unemployment expert in the Tulsa area. Oklahoma unemployment law can be difficult to understand in its application and your Oklahoma unemployment attorney can really help.
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