Case Study

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"What's a single mom to do?"

Janet Allen struggled to raise her child, Amanda, as a single mother in Arizona. She performed well in part-time positions in a couple of the Mojavi County departments when, from 1996 to 2002, she was able to accumulate "a substantial amount of sick leaves to use in case she or her daughter ever become ill". During that time, she was also able to complete her Associate of Arts degree as an accountant technician, which allowed her to persue, in 2002, a higher paying, full-time job in the another of the county's departments, a much needed career move considering the increasing amount of bills to pay and lack of child support assistance from the ex-husband. The new job, however, was more strict and did not offer a flexibile schedule. Due to an asthmatic condition Amanda developed, Janet ended up depleting all her accrued sick leave by the end of 2003, her supervisor was unsympathetic of the situation, having expressed disapproval regarding to it. Amanda's condition kept on getting worse - deteriorating Janet's attendence as a result. In the mean time, a "Sick Leave Management Policy" was promulgated, established the premises in which employees could make use of sick leaves.

At that point, Janet had already received her first Letter of Warning for overutilizating the benefit in January 2004, and by March of that year, she had received two Letters of Repriment for the same reason. Nevertheless, not having any extended family around, she had no choices other than taking care of her daughter herself. In hopes of being able to count with a more sympathetic supervisor, Janet got voluntarily transferred to another division of that Department in May 2004. As Amanda's condition, became really severe and Janet's overutilization of sick leave combined with her failure on following the requirements established by the Division's Handbook (which required proper procedures when taking sick leave) had leaded to both verbal and written warnings, predisciplinary hearing concerning her excessive absenteeism and a five-day suspension without pay as a disciplinary act, which was later, at a grievance hearing, reduced to two and a half days. Still, Janet was not able to improve her attendance. In this context, an initial predetermination hearing was scheduled for November 4th, 2004.

Her pernonnel profile indicated that from February to November of that year, Janet had used 213 percent of her accrued sick leave. By the occasion of the hearing it was suggested that Janet's pattern of sick leave usage could be considered abusive. She was not accompanied by a union representative for not knowing she was entitled to one. At the conclusion of the hearing she announced intention to take a leave on November 12th, and was informed by the county administrator that her termination was been considered, based on indications that she was not motivated to change her pattern behavior. In her defense, Janet stated that her daughter was frequent sick and childcare undependable. She expressed her opinion that the county should be more family friendly and understanding to the fact that she is a single mother raising a child with medical needs all by herself and that a flexible working schedule would be very appreciated on her side. To that, the administrator reinforced the fact that the treatment given to her was the same as to all the other employees and stated that, besides not being a productive employee herself, the division's productivity had been affected by Janet's absenteeism.

Subsequently, the county terminated Janet, the Letter of Termination stated that the measure was the appropriate action to be taken as progressive discipline. Janet, disagreeing with those terms, which she considered too severe as a disciplinary action, decided to grieve the decision based on the premises that except for sick leave overutilization, her performance was satisfactory; the County Administrator had exceeded his policy-making authority,...
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