Unemployment Compensation and Misconduct: An Employer-Friendly Trend?
Employers have the right to challenge unemployment compensation when an employee commits misconduct. The standard legal advice in Minnesota is that the bar for disqualifying misconduct is very high. As a consequence, challenging unemployment compensation has been regarded as difficult or ill-advised in all but egregious cases. But recent Minnesota appellate decisions show that disqualification is very fact-specific and, perhaps, the bar is not as high as commonly thought:
- A jewelry store manager who authorized a subordinate to purchase jewelry under her boyfriend’s name to meet her sales quota, and then return it the same day, committed disqualifying “misconduct.” Tietz v. Rogers Enterprises, Inc., A11-1574, 2012 WL 1914109 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012).
- A mail carrier who took a single piece of mail with a gift card and used it for his own benefit was disqualified. Brenna v. U.S. Postal Service, A11-1252, 2012 WL 2202968 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012).
- An employee who refused to sign documents acknowledging a disciplinary action was on that basis barred from benefits. Schneeweiss v. Schwan’s Consumer Brands, Inc., A11-1709, 2012 WL 2505815 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012).
- An employee who violated the company’s work rules by use of profanity in the workplace, after several incidents and prior warnings, was denied unemployment compensation benefits even though profanity was apparently common at the workplace. DeVilliers v. SVF Co-Op, A11-1228, 2012 WL 1070101 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012).
- Even common absenteeism is meeting the bar: an employee, who had been given at least one written warning for tardiness and then missed work because her car had been towed was deemed to have been disqualified based as “misconduct.” Franklin v. Goodwill Industries, Inc., A11-1466, 2012 WL 7657628 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012).
None of these fact situations seem particularly egregious and could easily have been initially regarded by the employer as not meeting the bar necessary to mount a successful challenge.
Takeaways: The common advice about the difficulties of opposing an unemployment claim on a misconduct basis may be worth a second look given these and other recent cases. A Minnesota employer with a “close-call” situation should consider working with legal counsel to identify any analogous precedent and make an informed decision about challenging employment compensation in what may be a new era of a more favorable interpretation of misconduct disqualification for the employer.