Sunday, December 19, 2010

Minnesota Court Finds Misrepresentation During Hiring Process Amounts to Misconduct, Denies Unemployment Benefits

An unemployment benefits case out of Minnesota highlights some of the importance of how lying about or omitting information during the hiring process can cost an employee dearly, even in the absence of a disclosure policy. A grants manager, Krista Santillana, for an agency that dealt with the elderly was terminated after a year on the job after the employer discovered that she did not reveal during her job interview that she was the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation for theft at her previous employer. Apparently the employer read a newspaper account of Santillana’s conviction for felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult (writing personal checks to herself from a nursing home resident’s checkbook for amounts totaling $6,342), and then promptly terminated her employment.

Why didn't the employer know about this before they hired her? Well, during the interview process, Santillana was asked why she left her former employer and responded that she left because she was interested in part-time work. The employer never asked her about her criminal background, she did not tell her employer during the interview about the ongoing criminal investigation, and the background check that the employer performed before hiring her came back clear. After Santillana was hired, she was then charged with felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult. The employer didn't have a policy regarding the disclosure of pending criminal charges, etc and Santillana never offered the information up as a courtesy to the employer.

Upon termination Santillana applied for unemployment benefits with the State of Minnesota but was denied after the unemployment-law judge determined that Santillana was discharged for employment misconduct, which was subsequently upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals which clarified that “employment misconduct” includes a misrepresentation made during hiring and affirmed the denial of unemployment benefits.

It is somewhat understandable and obvious why Santillana did not inform the employer that she really separated from her last employer because of her alleged stealing and criminal activity. The employer never asked specifically about any pending criminal charges and Santillana did not want to voluntarily bring it up. Santillana did not technically violate any of the employer's policies during the hiring process however she was not 100% honest about why she left her former employer. It is clear she separated from her previous employer because of the criminal activity and the Minnesota Court of Appeals held the employer should have been informed of this despite not having a policy regarding that information.

The case is Santillana v. Central Minnesota Council on Aging and Minnesota Dep’t of Employment and Econ. Dev., No. 23466835-3 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2010).

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