California Labor Law: Is FedEx Heartless?
California’s Labor Code states that an employment relationship with no specified duration is presumed to be employment “at-will.” In theory, this means that the employer or employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause. But it isn’t black and white. The at-will rule created by statute, the courts or public policy has exceptions. An employer can terminate a worker at will and, as long as it isn’t for the “wrong” reason, they won’t violate the California labor code.
In Sylvia’s case, she was fired for “stealing” from the company, although that accusation is quite a stretch. One employment attorney says that he has heard from employees whose employer accused them of stealing. Even though the employees had proven that someone else stole, the employer is still within rights to terminate that employee because it is not unlawful or “wrongful” termination.
“I was hired by FedEx in 2006 as lead project coordinator and my job was to make sure FedEx orders were delivered correctly - I had to catch all and any errors,” says Sylvia. “Everything was going well until about eight months on the job, when I had an argument with my assistant manager about child care. He threatened me by saying that if I left work to pick up my daughter from daycare I wouldn’t have a job when I returned.”
Sylvia scrambled and managed to get a friend to pick up her daughter, but she then found herself working in a hostile environment. She called her district manager and asked for a transfer: if she couldn’t be transferred, her only alternative was to resign.
“Thankfully I was transferred to another FedEx location but I had to work nights. My district manager, however, promised me that I would only have to work the night shift for one year. Two years later I was still working nights so I reminded my supervisor about the promise and that I couldn’t work nights anymore. Their solution: my hours were decreased from a regular 40-hour week to seven hours per week.”
Sylvia believes they were forcing her into resigning because of the daycare issue. She wrote a letter to HR explaining that she had to step down from her job as project coordinator. Apparently that seemed to work - she was transferred to another location and worked full time again. “Everything was working well and I got promoted two years later to assistant manager,” Sylvia adds. Six months later I was promoted to center manager and all was good for 18 months: I had nothing but great reviews and no write-ups.”
All was good at work, but Sylvia’s home life was another story. She filed for divorce after a 20-year marriage and became clinically depressed. Her doctor prescribed anti-depressants; Sylvia says the meds made her very forgetful and she found it difficult to function.
“I had an appointment with my doctor to get a different kind of medication and forgot to clock out,” Sylvia explains. “That day, my doctor said I had to get out of work on disability or I would have a nervous breakdown. So I went out for 24 days. Three days after I returned to work, I was fired! My supervisor told me that I entered the wrong information on my time card and another time I opened the center late; in other words, I made a few mistakes. The day I was fired I took an additional pill by accident and blacked out.”
Sylvia explained her problem to the district manager and he put her on administrative leave for two weeks. But a month later she was still waiting to return to work.
While she was waiting to come back, not knowing when she could return, and no communication whatsoever, Sylvia received an email saying, ‘We are committed to a full investigation for your sake and the company and when we are ready we will call you.’
“I went back to work and gave them a letter from my doctor saying I should take another few weeks off,” says Sylvia. “They called me three days later and fired me on December 14, 2012.”
Sylvia says she applied for unemployment benefits but FedEx is disputing that, with the excuse that she entered the wrong information on her time cards and in effect stole from the company.
“My doctor’s note says the side effects from my meds could be memory loss but they don’t care,” Sylvia says, crying. “I think they are heartless.
“I appealed my termination and just today they said I wasn’t getting my job back, regardless of my medication excuse. They also said that I was a center manager and should know better. I have one more appeal, which will go to the vice president of FedEx this week. The VP is supposed to look at my entire file and talk to the district manager who fired me. So if that doesn’t work, I will seek help from an employment attorney.”
LawyersandSettlements has contacted FedEx HR and is waiting for a reply.