I love the Little League World Series.  Classic Americana.  Teams from all over the U.S. and the world play, and proud parents watch them.

Billie Ann Tomei’s son Cole and his team from California (which was coached by her husband Trevor) were good enough to play in the Little League World Series.  But when Billie Ann, an office manager for a CPA, asked for time off to travel to see Cole play, her boss said “No.”  According to Billie Ann, he told her, “If you go, write yourself your last [pay]check.

Well, Billie Ann wrote herself that check and went to see her son play.  Do you think she regrets her decision?

Not likely.  While she lost her job, Cole’s team made it all the way to the U.S. Championship and pulled off a comeback for the ages, scoring 10 runs in the final inning to tie the game and force extra innings.  (Sadly, they lost in extra innings, but came in 3rd overall after beating a Panamanian team in the consolation round.)

I had two immediate reactions to this story:

First, what a jerk Billie Ann’s boss was!  His explanation was that he was out of town, and he needed Billie Ann at the office.  Probably true, but come on man, have a heart!  Making her choose between her job and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her son (and her husband)?  Come home from your trip, get someone else to cover, or close the office.  There had to have been a better alternative to telling her if she takes off she is fired.

Second, HR professionals should remember that employees view paid time off benefits as theirs and often think no employer can tell them how or when to use them.  In many minds, since Billie Ann had vacation time, she had a “right” to use it.  Of course, that is not always how it works.  Short of a union contract or other guarantee over the use of paid time off, it is largely subject to the employer’s discretion.  When an employee is needed at work, vacation or other paid time off isn’t always possible.  Except for time off required under federal or state law (such as FMLA leave or time off for voting or jury duty), an employer can usually condition the taking of time off, or prohibit it, as the business demands.  Communicating this reality with employees will help them better understand why they might not be able to take the vacation they request.

So, what the employer did here was legal, but was it the right thing to do?  Probably not.  It’s a tricky situation because business has to go on, even when employees want to be away.  But, to ask a parent to choose between her job and her child is wrong-headed.  Being unreasonable and ultra-inflexible will crush employee morale and loyalty.  Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.  There had to have been a better solution for everyone.  Too bad the CPA didn’t have an HR professional on staff to help him find it.

While Billie Ann may have no regrets, I bet her former boss will.  The story has gotten plenty of publicity — all bad for the CPA — and I wonder how he will fare in finding a good employee to replace Billie Ann?