In this article, we learn of a woman who was the victim of the iPhone glitch that resulted in a non-working alarm. As a result, she overslept and lost her job. Let’s take a second and analyze how an employment lawyer would look at this situation:
1) Was the termination lawful?
Probably. Massachusetts is an at-will employment state, which means that you can be fired for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reasons at all, unless they are illegal reasons. So, unless the employer is only enforcing the tardiness rule against her because of protected class status (race, gender, religion, etc.), there is nothing unlawful about it. It doesn’t matter that her reason was legitimate. In fact, the employer doesn’t even have to announce in advance that there is a rule against tardiness. An employer has the right to be weird and fire a person because they WEREN’T tardy.
2) Is she entitled to some form of severance?
Probably not. Severance is, at its essence, free money for ending one’s employment. It is a gift. Unless, of course, there is a stated severance policy and the employment was continued under those terms.
3) Will she get unemployment benefits?
In Massachusetts, you generally get unemployment benefits unless you quit for no good reason or are fired for breaking the rules (or acting against the employer’s interest). However, the breaking of a rule must be “knowing” and acting against interest must be “wilful” (sic). A good lawyer would argue that oversleeping one time due to a glitch in the alarm clock was neither knowing nor wilful.
4) Can she sue Apple?
She may have a claim for detrimental reliance. People expect that the alarm feature, built in to iOS 4, will work, especially if it has worked in the past. However, the iPhone and every edition of iOS comes with printed and/or online terms and conditions. It is well possible that Apple disclaimed that the clock would always work. Also to be considered are damages: if she gets a new job quickly, she will have mitigated much of the financial harm and she would only be out a few days’ pay. Further, she may have to repay her unemployment benefits.
5) Are there any other claims?
She may want to consider how she was paid her final day. In Massachusetts, you must be paid on the day you are terminated, including all accrued vacation leave and 3 hours for the day fired, else you are entitled to treble (triple) damages and attorneys’ fees. And, if there are written employee manuals, policies, handbooks, etc., she should review them for any mandatory disciplinary/grievance procedures, including arbitration agreements.