Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Denied Unemployment Compensation Because of "Misconduct"

When a person, known as a "claimant," files for unemployment insurance in Wisconsin, the first question is whether the person quit or was terminated. If the claimant was terminated, then the issue is whether the claimant was terminated for "misconduct" connected with their employment. "Misconduct" is a legal term used to encompass conduct ranging from absenteeism to theft and not necessarily used in the literal sense.

The case that gave birth to the definition of "misconduct" is Boynton Cab Co. v. Neubeck, 237 Wis. 249, 259-60, 296 N.W. 636 (1941). In Boynton the Wisconsin Supreme Court stated:

[T]he intended meaning of the term "misconduct" ... is limited to conduct evincing a wilful or wanton disregard of the employer's interests as is found in deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree or recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or evil design, or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or of the employee's duties and obligations to his employer. On the other hand mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertentcies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good-faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed "misconduct" within the meaning of the statute.

So what does all of that terse legal language mean? It means that an employee who is deemed to have intentionally disregarded workplace policies, rules and normal and reasonable standards of behavior will be considered to have engaged in "misconduct" and will not be allowed unemployment benefits until seven weeks after the discharge and until the employee earns wages of at least 14 times the employee's weekly UI benefit rate.

The determination of whether the reason for termination amounts to "misconduct" is a case-by-case analysis and the reason why the Department of Workforce Development allows for formal, in-person appeal hearings on the issue of misconduct where an Administrative Law Judge listens to testimony and reviews evidence to determine whether a claimant engaged in "misconduct."

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