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August 3, 1995


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable John A. Ward, Judge Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Theis delivered the opinion of the court. Hoffman, P.j., and O'brien, S., J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Theis

JUSTICE THEIS delivered the opinion of the court:

Brenda DeBois (claimant) was discharged after her employer discovered that she left work more than an hour early on several occasions without the approval of her supervisor and falsified her time sheets. She applied for unemployment benefits with the Illinois Department of Employment Security (Department). The Board of Review found that the claimant should be denied unemployment benefits. After hearing arguments, the circuit court reversed the Board of Review's finding. The Department, the Director of the Department, the Board of Review and Illinois Bell Telephone Company appeal this decision. We now reverse the decision of the circuit court.

The claimant began working at Illinois Bell on July 3, 1968. In 1991, she was employed there as a computer attendant, working out of the office located at 225 West Randolph.

From February 25, 1991, to June 17, 1991, the claimant was on disability leave. When the claimant returned to work in June, she was assigned to work the evening shift and her hours of work were 4 p.m. until 12 midnight. Employees assigned to the evening shift were allowed to take a 30-minute unpaid lunch break and two 15-minute paid breaks. They were therefore paid for 7 1/2 hours of work, although they were only required to work for seven hours.

The times for lunches and breaks were prescheduled and communicated to the employees. Any changes in the times that were scheduled had to be approved by a supervisor. One of the supervisors testified that employees would ask if they could combine their lunch and break times so that they could work through them and leave one hour early but the supervisors generally did not allow them to do so. The claimant testified that she was sometimes allowed to combine her lunches and breaks and leave early when there was a holiday and no shift was scheduled to begin work after her shift left.

In March of 1991, Illinois Bell discontinued the practice of having an on-site supervisor present at 225 West Randolph. Instead, a supervisor from the Marquette Park office was assigned to the employees at the downtown location. This supervisor would speak with the employees by telephone and periodically visit the office. Illinois Bell also appointed one on-site employee to act as the "lead person," which was a position like a temporary supervisor. The claimant sometimes acted as the lead person on her shift.

In June of 1991, the management at Illinois Bell became aware that employees were not staying until the end of their shift on Friday evenings. On August 9, 1991, Ron Elenbaas, the district manager, began stationing himself at the only exit door so that he could observe at what time the evening shift employees left work on Friday evenings. On that evening, he began observing the exit door at 10:30. He saw no employees leave. At 11:25, he went up to the computer room and found it locked. He concluded that all the employees had left before he had begun his observation.

He continued his observation for seven weeks. Although the claimant was scheduled to work until 12 midnight, she was seen leaving work at 10:55 p.m. on August 16, 1991. The claimant left at 11 p.m. on August 23. On August 30, Elenbaas again saw her leave early, although he did not specify at what time, and on September 6, he saw her leave at 10:30. On September 13, Elenbaas began observing the exit at 10:45 and never saw her leave; on September 20, he began observing the exit at 10:15 but never saw her leave. On both days, after waiting, he went up to the computer room and found it already locked. He therefore concluded that the claimant had left at some point before he started his observation.

Like other employees at Illinois Bell, the claimant was responsible for completing her own time sheet and recording the times at which she took lunches and breaks and departed. The claimant's time sheets for this period reflected that she had worked from 4 p.m. until 12 midnight.

Consequently, the claimant was suspended on September 26, 1991, and dismissed on October 6, 1991, because she falsified her time sheets, thereby violating Illinois Bell's code of conduct.

The claimant then applied for unemployment benefits and Illinois Bell contested the payments. She contended that she combined her lunch and break times, "lumping" them together at the end of her shift, and shut down the computer room early in order to help her employer. The claims adjudicator found the claimant eligible for benefits. Illinois Bell appealed the decision.

The referee reversed the claims adjudicator's decision. The claimant appealed to the Board of Review of the Department. The Board of Review (the Board) affirmed the referee's ...

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