When Sharon Smiley decided to work through her lunch break, little did she realise she would be fired.

Ms Smiley had been working at a Chicago real estate company for 10 years when she decided to skip eating during her lunch break to instead work on a project she had been given by a manager.

The 48-year-old receptionist and administrative assistant has since been locked in a two-year legal battle with her former employer.

"Smiley . . . said another manager told her it was time for her to go to lunch and step away from her desk, but she refused," Good Morning America reported.

"That manager observed Smiley working on a spreadsheet on her computer, answering the phone and responding to questions by people who approached her desk.

"The company's human resources director then became involved, explaining that hourly non-exempt employees were required to take a 30-minute lunch break, a policy that had been in the company handbook for 10 years.

"Not following the policy would be a violation of Illinois' labour laws, the HR director said."

The location of Ms Smiley's desk, "which was directly at the front door of the office, made this particularly important for her", according to the HR director.

The director had had many discussions with Ms Smiley "over her eating breakfast at her desk", court documents have shown.

"After being fired, Smiley learnt she was ineligible for unemployment benefits because she had been discharged for misconduct connected with her work," GMA said.

"She appealed to the Illinois Department of Employment Security's board of review three times, was denied, then took her case to a circuit court.

"That court ruled Smiley, who did not challenge the firing, was eligible for benefits."

The court found that denial of her unemployment benefits was "clearly erroneous".

"I knew you couldn't eat lunch at your desk," Ms Smiley told ABC News.

"I was under the impression that because I was punched out I could do what I want."

Ms Smiley said her job had become so stressful that she suffered a stroke in 2009.

She now has a new job.

"They told me I could sit at my desk, I could be at my computer during lunch, or I could look at magazines," she said of her new employers.

The West Australian

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