An unemployed person in Illinois is qualified for unemployment unless there is misconduct, which "has been defined as conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer's interests," according to the state's legal test in a ruling from the board of review.
"Workers generally have to be guilty of gross misconduct, which includes insubordination," professor Anderson said. "The bar is set high for the employer to prove that, and in this case, the court found the employer's argument that her actions amounted to insubordination to be inadequate."
In the case that established the precedent in 1987, an ambulance driver was fired after having four minor accidents in three months backing up a vehicle. The hearing officer and state agency denied his unemployment claim, but the state supreme court said the law requires "evil design" or wanton disregard of its interests, and that test was not satisfied.
"If the ambulance driver with four accidents in three months qualified for a benefit, then by implication, Ms. Smiley did, too," professor LeRoy said.
After nine months of unemployment, Smiley obtained a similar job at another company on Dec. 13. She said her new employer has a more liberal lunch policy.
"They told me I could sit at my desk, I could be at my computer during lunch, or I could look at magazines. And in my area, they have two flat-screen TVs on the wall," she said with a chuckle.