June 2016 Briefly: An Unemployment Case Analysis
The claimant filed for benefits after being discharged. He was allowed benefits upon a finding that he was fired, but not for misconduct connected with his work. The employer disagreed and appealed. A hearing was scheduled before an administrative law judge.
At the Hearing
The Employer’s Evidence: The claimant violated the employer’s harassment policy, which he received at hire, which provided that immediate discharge could result if it was violated. On the date of the final incident, the claimant became upset because the manager would not give him access to a locked office. In the midst of his frustration, the claimant blurted out “You make me feel like I’m black” in front of a number of customers. The claimant’s actions were so serious as to merit immediate discharge.
The Claimant’s Evidence: The claimant testified that he needed access to the office to complete his work, otherwise he’d have to drive to another office to close out his job orders, which the claimant did not want to do because it was late and he had worked many hours that day. The claimant admitted to making the statement, but believed he was justified based on the situation. He testified that the customers did not appear offended.
The Hearing Decision
The administrative law judge found that the claimant was discharged, but not for misconduct connected with the work and he was allowed benefits. The ALJ found that the employer failed to prove a violation of policy because they failed to prove that anyone was offended by the claimant’s statement. Additionally, the ALJ found the claimant’s actions were not willful because of his frustration. The employer appealed, arguing that the claimant’s statement was itself so offensive that it should result in a disqualification from benefits.
The Board of Review Decision
The Board of Review disagreed with the ALJ and reversed the decision. The Board found that although the employer failed to prove the claimant offended anyone, the claimant’s actions were a deliberate disregard of the employer’s interests – the definition of misconduct under state law. The Board found the claimant’s frustration was not justified because the manager was not required to give him access to the office. His actions were found to be disqualifying misconduct.
- A single incident of offensive behavior can result in a disqualification. If a claimant’s actions are inherently offensive, they may be serious enough to disqualify him even if he had not been warned prior to discharge.
- States may find misconduct even if the employer’s policy doesn’t specifically prohibit the claimant’s actions. It would be impossible to clearly define every situation which could result in discharge. If you’re able to prove that the claimant had a duty to conform to a reasonable standard of behavior while at work and that the claimant deliberately disregarded it, a disqualification could result.
**While many states use this same definition of misconduct, the definition in your state could differ. Please contact your unemployment consultants with questions.
To learn how Equifax can help your organization with unemployment cost management and hearings support, contact Pete Krieshok at email@example.com.
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