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We are in California in case it helps when giving advice on her situation.

My wife was hired at her workplace back in February. Part of her negotiation at hire was that they would accommodate her university schedule by allowing her to leave a little early on certain days so that she could make it to class on time. Every semester she leaves one hour early two days a week.

The arrangement has been fine up until this past Thursday. Her new manager gave her an ultimatum to decide by Tuesday. She told her that they can no longer accommodate her school schedule, and that she could no longer request time-off like other employees do because her position as receptionist requires her to be there at all times, and that my wife had to make a decision by Tuesday whether she agreed to this or not.

We believe this came about after some days off that she had while she was sick last week. She also had approved a couple of hours off at the end of her day on yesterday for a parent-teacher conference we had to attend for my son, and a couple of hours that were also approved for next Wednesday for my daughter’s preschool event in the morning.

Her main function as receptionist/admin is answering the phones. There are two other admins that also answer the phones and have done so many many times.

A little more background on her employer. Her last manager wrote my wife up on a final for several points that they never followed up on after. Long story short, my wife was informed that she had made a number of mistakes that were never brought to her attention and was accused of showing up late or taking longer lunches. I helped her write a rebuttal statement because much of what they accused her of was false and she was able to prove it with time cards and the other was due to lack of proper training and she opened up to her manager and hr about her ADHD and anxiety disorders which she frequently sees a psychiatrist for medication and attends therapy as well to help her manage her life better. After all this, they never gave her proper training, instead they took tasks away from her and reduced it essentially to just answering phones. Sometime after, her former manager left the company and even the head of HR who hired my wife and approved her leaving early for school on certain days left the company as well.

Now my wife’s anxiety is going through the roof so she scheduled another appointment to her therapist today. My wife has one more year before she graduates from her university, and her manager only giving her until Tuesday doesn’t give my wife the time to decide what to do next.

She was doing well after the situation she had formerly with the last manager, but this new manager claims to have no knowledge of my wife’s ADHD and anxiety issues that were brought forth to people that no longer work there.

Also, the other admins she works with frequently show up late and frequently leave early. In fact, my wife’s last manager admitted to allowing one of the other admins to leave early daily otherwise she has a hard time finding parking at her apartment complex.

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    Was the negotiated time off written down anywhere? If not, it becomes a he-said/she said situation. If it was, then she'll have no problem. She should put the degree first. – PeteCon Dec 15 '19 at 0:13
  • @PeteCon - It was not written. It was verbal. However, it has never been denied by management and she has been allowed to leave an hour early two days a week for the past two semesters. Their effort now is to get her to agree to their new terms with her by this coming Tuesday. – Ramiro Ruiz Dec 15 '19 at 0:20
  • @JoeStrazzere she would chat with HR, she has before. My question if not implied is what steps should she take in this situation which you answered. I am just looking for insight and thoughts on the matter. – Ramiro Ruiz Dec 15 '19 at 0:23
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    Your wife will want to talk to an attorney about her rights.. She might have the legal rights to take leave, when it’s required, to get to her classes. Your company was doing your wife a solid with regards to the deal you describe. Sounds like bridges were accidentally damaged. If she doesn’t have the right to take that leave, your wife does indeed, have a decision to make. – Donald Dec 15 '19 at 2:14
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    Your wife will want to talk to an employment attorney, hopefully before the Tuesday deadline rolls around. The longer she waits, the more it's going to escalate. Whether or not they really have or haven't read her personnel file, her attorney needs to remind them that she's in a protected class and that this capricious request of theirs about her schedule will be seen as retaliation against her previous request for reasonable accommodations. And even if you don't want to sue, you should at least posture as if you're going to sue. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 15 '19 at 22:37
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I'm afraid there is not much you can do in California. Employment is "at-will" and asking for extra time off is not in any way a protected class.

You will have to make a decision:

  • Give up on university (bad choice obviously)
  • Skip classes and stay working there until you have a new job lined up
  • Take the classes and find another job while unemployed

You could always hire an attorney, but chances are that's just lost money. It will probably cost at least as much as you lose by not working there while looking for another job. You could also vote for someone to strengthen your practically non-existing labor laws so you cannot just be fired arbitrarily. But that is a very long-term solution.

  • But she is in a protected class. ADHD is a protected class. employmentlawdaily.com/index.php/news/… – Stephan Branczyk Dec 15 '19 at 8:25
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    @StephanBranczyk But her ADHD has nothing to do with why she wants to take those leaves, so it's irrelevant. – nvoigt Dec 15 '19 at 8:27
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    Well, management changed and they have the right to change the schedule. They have the right to fire her over her hairstyle of for no reason at all. Welcome to at-will employment. – nvoigt Dec 15 '19 at 9:13
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    @nvoigt The right to fire someone over their hairstyle is not absolute in California. See SB-188 Discrimination: hairstyles. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 15 '19 at 11:02
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    @StephanBranczyk: she is only in a protected class if an accredited medical professional certifies her condition and states what accommodations are required. That certification needs to be officially communicated to the company and attached to her personal file. – Hilmar Dec 15 '19 at 17:27
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This is one of those times when HR is your friend, or should be.

If the head of HR approved her leaving early for school, the head of HR should also have documented that approval in the HR files. Similarly, the write-ups and the resulting discussions will be documented. Including the ADHD: that's a medical issue. Failing to document a medical issue is a HUGE Bozo no-no in HR, and it is even bigger in California.

Even if the head of HR that did all that subsequently left the company (which is a Big Red Flag all by itself!), the documentation should still exist.

Your wife needs to go talk to the new HR director, ASAP, and find out whether that documentation still exists. If it does, HR can and should brief the new boss. That briefing should probably include the new boss's boss (two levels up from your wife), as it is very possible that the new boss will try to stand her ground, even after having been shown in detail that the arrangement exists and was approved all the way up the food chain.

Note added later: This briefing should have happened when the new boss was brought in.

If that documentation does not exist, that company is headed for very, very serious trouble in the near future.

Having said that: Even if all of this gets resolved properly, it sounds to me as though it is time for your wife to find a new employer. I find it appalling that a California company would have any problem whatsoever with accommodating an employee who was working on furthering her education.

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