June 2018 Briefly: An Unemployment Case Analysis

June Briefly

Background

The claimant was discharged for threatening violence in the workplace. He was disqualified from benefits upon a finding that he was discharged for misconduct connected with the work. The claimant appealed. A hearing was scheduled before an administrative law judge.

At The Hearing

The Employer’s Evidence: The claimant’s manager testified that the claimant walked into the manager’s office while the manager was conducting a confidential meeting. The claimant’s manager asked the claimant to leave the room, and to knock on the door in the future. As the claimant left the office, he said “Next time, I’ll just shoot the door.” The claimant’s manager testified that he believed that the claimant’s statement was a threat of harm, which was prohibited by the employer’s workplace violence policy. The employer testified that the claimant had received and been trained on the policy the week before the incident, and was aware that his actions could lead to his discharge.
The Claimant’s Evidence: The claimant testified he meant no harm and was not serious about shooting the door. The claimant testified that he had been employed for many years, with no disciplinary issues, and his exemplary service should have been considered before the employer made the decision to discharge him.

The Hearing Decision

The administrative law judge (ALJ) found that the claimant was discharged for misconduct connected with the work. The ALJ found that the manager reasonably took the statement about shooting the door as a threat of harm. The claimant’s statement violated the employer’s known and reasonable company policy, and the claimant was disqualified from benefits. The claimant appealed, arguing that he did not mean to make a threat, that his long employment should be taken into account, and that the employer knew him well enough to understand that he was not going to bring a gun to the workplace and shoot at anything.

The Board of Review Decision

The Board of Review (BOR) agreed with the ALJ’s decision. The BOR found that the claimant’s statement was reasonably taken as a threat of harm, which violated the employer’s policy. The statement announcing an intent to fire a gun in a workplace was sufficient to rise to the level of misconduct connected with the work, and the claimant’s long employment did not mitigate the threat. His discharge was properly considered to be misconduct connected with the work.

Takeaways

  1. Threatening harm in the workplace is generally considered to be misconduct connected with the work. In this case, the claimant testified that he was not serious when he made the statement about shooting the door, but his intent was not considered. The statement itself was sufficiently threatening to rise to the level of misconduct connected with the work. If you have a similar case, be prepared to provide testimony from someone who was present at the time of the incident. That witness should be prepared to testify to the statement itself, as well as about the effect the statement had on the people who heard it. If the claimant’s statement makes anyone who heard it feel unsafe, that information will be important to your case.
  2. In a discharge case, the final incident that led to the decision to discharge will be the primary deciding factor. In this case, the claimant worked for the employer for a significant number of years without prior disciplinary action. The claimant attempted to argue that his record of employment should have been a factor in the ALJ’s decision. The BOR disagreed. The claimant’s prior employment history could be relevant if there were any similar incidents or warnings that related to the reason for discharge. If the claimant had been warned previously for a violation of the same policy, that information would be relevant if it placed the claimant on official notice that a further violation could result in discharge. In this case, the claimant’s statement was so egregious that it was considered misconduct connected with the work as a single incident. The claimant’s work record otherwise was not sufficient to mitigate the effects of the threatening statement he made.

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About Peg Elofson

Peg oversees our Unemployment Hearing Consultants. She has more than 15 years of experience in the unemployment industry, with particular focus in unemployment appeals. Her experience includes account management, hearing representation, and Board of Review appeals. Peg joined Equifax through the acquisition of TALX Corporation in 2007. She holds BSBA and JD degrees from Creighton University.