January 2017 Briefly: An Unemployment Case Analysis
The claimant was discharged for excessive breaks and time clock fraud. She was allowed benefits upon a finding that she was discharged, but not for misconduct connected with the work. The employer appealed, and a hearing was scheduled before an administrative law judge.
At the Hearing
The Employer’s Evidence: The employer testified that the claimant, who worked as a night shift manufacturing operator, was discharged for taking excessive breaks and not clocking out while she was away from her work. The employer had discovered that a significant number of employees were following a pattern of taking excessive breaks. In response, the employer met with all of the workers, informing them that their actions would no longer be tolerated and they must adhere to a strict number of minutes per shift. The employer discovered that despite the meeting, the claimant continued to take excessive breaks ranging from 15 to 30 minutes past her allotted time. The employer presented time punch documentation and Human Resources testimony regarding seeing the claimant on security cameras as evidence that the claimant was away from work for the excessive time.
The Claimant’s Evidence: The claimant testified that she attended the meeting and was aware of the company’s stated policy regarding excessive break time. She testified that she’d approached her supervisor and asked if the night shift would also be required to follow the strict break times. The claimant testified that her supervisor responded that as long as the work was completed, the night shift would not be expected to adhere to the policy. The claimant added that the shift was meeting goals, and she’d seen other employees taking the same amount of time for break also, and believed that it meant that the supervisor’s statement was correct.
The Hearing Decision
The Administrative Law Judge found that the claimant was discharged, but not for misconduct connected with the work, and she was allowed benefits. The ALJ found that the claimant reasonably believed that her actions were allowed, and the employer’s evidence showed she was only taking 5 to 10 extra minutes per shift rather than the 15 to 30 as testified to by the employer. The employer disagreed and appealed, arguing that the claimant stole company time by taking excessive breaks without clocking out for the time and that her actions were a deliberate disregard of the employer’s interests.
The Board of Review Decision
The Board of Review agreed with the Administrative Law Judge’s decision and the decision remained in effect. The employer was able to prove that the claimant took some extra time on her breaks, but the employer was unable to prove that the claimant did so willfully because the claimant reasonably believed that her supervisor condoned her actions.
- An element of intent must generally be present for a finding of misconduct. Misconduct can defined as a deliberate disregard of the employer’s interests or of the duties and obligations owed to the employer. In this case, the element of ”deliberate” was not proved because the claimant was able to convince the ALJ that she was unaware that she was required to follow the policy. As she was unaware that her adherence to strict break times was in her employer’s interests, she was unable to deliberately disregard those interests.
- It is recommended that a claimant’s direct manager appear to testify in unemployment hearings. In this case, the claimant’s direct supervisor did not appear to testify during the hearing. The employer’s evidence was presented by a Human Resources representative who was familiar with the investigation into the claimant’s break times. In this case, if the claimant’s manager had appeared to offer his first-hand testimony, he could have denied or explained any statements attributed to him by the claimant. If the manager had denied giving the claimant permission to exceed her allotted break time, the outcome might have been different. It is rare that a direct supervisor has no relevant information to offer regarding a claimant’s separation.
To learn how Equifax can help your organization with unemployment cost management and hearings support, contact Pete Krieshok at pete.krieshok@Equifax.com.
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