Can my employer ask about the details of my family emergency?
Question Details: I went home early from work and told my employer that I needed to leave due to a family emergency. My employer was very upset with me and asked, "Well what is your family emergency? Why do you need to leave?" And basically she told me that she was going to decide if it was a good enough reason for me to leave work. She allowed me to leave but told me that I had an obligation to my employer and that in the future if I wanted to continue working there, I would need to choose between family and work. Is she allowed to ask specific details like that? Is she allowed to tell me to chose between family and work legally?
Yes, your employer can ask about your family emergency and does NOT have to let you leave work for it--the employer can legally make you choose between your job and your family (and employers effectively do this everyday, even in more subtle ways--such as requiring working parents to work schedules that conflict with child care obligations). There is no legal right to leave or miss work for a family emergency, so you could be terminated for this; that being the case, the employer can inquire into it, set conditions on it, or warn you that this was a one-time exception.
The fact is that unless there exists an employment contract or union agreement to the contrary, an employee has no legal right to be absent from work due to a family emergency. Accordingly, to the extent that an employer chooses to let an employee leave, it can ask details about the emergency, set conditions about the leave time, and/or warn the worker about not doing asking for it again. Further, it can also deny an employee permission to leave and can effectively make them choose between their job and their family. Unfair as it may seem; it is legal. In an "at ill" work relationship, a company can set the conditions of employment much as it sees fit absent some form of legally actionable discrimination.