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Recent PA Court Decision Explains Denial of Unemployment Compensation

On June 30, 2010 the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania upheld the denial of Unemployment Compensation benefits to a school bus driver who was fired for leaving children unattended on a school bus while taking care of a personal matter.  A summary of the case follows.     

The case of Kraftician, v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 2010 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 367 was decided June 30, 2010.  The Employer received a complaint from a parent that the driver had stopped and left the school bus and the children, grades 5 through 8, unattended.  When confronted, the driver admitted stopping and leaving the school bus to cross the street to make a personal appointment for car detailing at a business establishment.  The driver was initially suspended for three days and subsequently terminated for leaving his vehicle unattended with students on board.  Under the Employer’s rules, disciplinary action could be taken up to and including termination for any conduct that creates an unacceptable security risk or affects the employer's public image or causes embarrassment to employer or its clients.

Section 802(e) of Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Law (the Law) provides, in part, that an employee shall be ineligible for unemployment compensation if discharged or temporarily suspended from work for willful misconduct connected with work.  The term "willful misconduct" is not defined by statute but the courts have defined it to mean:

(a) wanton or willful disregard for an employer's interests;

(b) deliberate violation of an employer's rules;

(c) disregard for standards of behavior which an employer can rightfully expect of an    employee; or

(d) negligence indicating an intentional disregard of the employer's interest or an employee's duties or obligations.

An employer, seeking to prove willful misconduct by showing that the employee violated the employer's rules or policies, must prove the existence of the rule or policy and that the claimant violated it. However, the court has also held that an employer need not have an established rule where the behavioral standard is obvious and the employee's conduct is so contrary to the employer's best interests that discharge is a natural result.  In either case, if the employee can show good cause for the violation, that is, that the actions which resulted in the discharge were justifiable and reasonable under the circumstances, then Unemployment Compensation will be granted.  Ultimately, whether an employee's conduct constitutes willful misconduct is a question of law for the hearing officer’s or Court's review.

In this case, the court held that the driver knew or should have known of the employer’s rules against leaving children unattended on a bus.  The court found that the driver’s actions were contrary to the standards of behavior the Employer had a right to expect of an employee, created a security risk for the students, and constituted a violation of Employer's disciplinary policy. The court also found that the driver did not establish good cause for his actions and, as a result, was not eligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits under section 43 P.S. 802(e) the Law.

What does this mean for Contractors?

It is important to have good, clear rules and procedures for employees in the form of an employee manual and job descriptions.  It is equally important to document your communications with employees related to their performance as measured against established standards of conduct.  Good Human Resource practices will help protect you if you must take disciplinary action against an employee and RC Kelly Law Associates is available to provide assistance with your employee matters.

 

For information about this topic contact RC Kelly Law Associates at
215-896-3846 or via e-mail at
help@rckelly.com

 



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