I Was Late For Work With No Excuse And Was Fired And Now I Want To Sue

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An AOL Jobs reader asks:

I was recently terminated from my job because I was late. I did not give an excuse or a reason for my lateness. I called before my shift was scheduled to alert a manager of my lateness & nobody picked up, so I call at the exact time I was supposed to be there to alert someone of my lateness. After ringing for a while, the General Manager picks up the phone jokes around with me after I tell him I'd be 15-20 minutes late & asked if it was alright to still come in. I walked in ready to work 20 minutes late as discussed, as soon I began to work he pulled me into the office to fire me for being late. I refused to sign our writeup explaining why he fired me because I didn't agree to any of it &I had the chance to write on it what I felt but I was so angry.
Is there anything I can do?
Is that legal, or right?

So let me get this straight. You tried calling once before your shift and nobody picked up. So you waited until the exact time you were supposed to be there and told them you were going to be late. You had no excuse. And now you want to sue because you don't think it was fair you were fired.

Where do I start?

Yes, you can be fired for being late to work with no excuse. Unless you live in Montana or have a contract saying otherwise, your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all. If you know you're going to be late, give as much advance notice as you can. Call, text, email, whatever you need to do to comply with company policy. Don't wait until you're already late to call.

There are a few circumstances where such a firing might be illegal. I'll take a shot in the dark here and name some, but it isn't likely they'll apply. If other employees are allowed to come in late and were not fired, and if they are all of a different, say, race than you (or sex, national origin, religion, etc.) then you might have a discrimination case. If you were allowed to come in late before with no problems and were suddenly fired shortly after objecting to the company doing something illegal, taking a FMLA leave, making a worker's compensation claim or disclosing a disability, then you might have a claim. If you have approved intermittent FMLA leave and your lateness relates to your medical condition, you may have a case against the employer.

Mostly, you have to come in on time.

As Woody Allen said, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." I'd add that the other 10 percent is showing up on time. If your company has a specific time you need to get there, they don't want excuses. When you work for a company that fires people for being late, make sure you get there on time. If your bus runs late, get up an hour earlier and take an earlier bus. If you have a flat tire, call a taxi or get a ride from a friend. If you have a doctor's appointment, make sure you notify them well in advance and get approval in writing.

As to signing the discipline, since it was a termination you did the right thing. I don't recommend signing termination forms as a general rule. You're too upset to be thinking straight, so don't sign anything until you take it home and have a chance to read it and understand what you're signing. If it was a written warning, then I recommend you sign with the notation, "as to receipt only, rebuttal to follow" and then submit a calm response later. For more on what to do in a disciplinary meeting, read my article HR Wants To Meet! What Do I Do?

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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