Can You Be Fired for Absence Without Leave to Care for a Sick Family Member ?

In People ex rel. Polen v. Hoehler, 405 Ill. 322, 90 N.E.2d 729 (1950), an employee of the department of public welfare was discharged pursuant to a rule providing that any employee absent without leave for three successive days was considered to have resigned. The employee had needed to leave work temporarily in order to care for her sick sister. Although she had tried to get permission for her trip from the superintendent at her workplace, he was not there at the time. When she returned in a few days she was not allowed to work. She asked for a termination hearing before the Civil Service Commission, but her request was denied since she had supposedly resigned. The statute governing the commission allowed discharge only for just cause, after a hearing. The supreme court held that it exceeded the commission's authority to discharge an employee without a hearing on cause, even if the commission said she had constructively quit. Polen, 405 Ill. at 328, 90 N.E.2d at 733. In Polen, the court wrote: "There are many instances in which three days' absence, without notice, might occur without the slightest indication of resignation or of improper conduct." People ex rel. Polen, 405 Ill. at 328, 90 N.E.2d at 733.