Thursday, March 01, 2007

UC - willful misconduct - corrections officer

Department of Corrections v. UCBR - Commonwealth Court - February 28, 2007

A corrections officer who heard rumors of a planned attack on an inmate was guilty of willful misconduct for not reporting the rumors and not intervening when he heard the inmate being beaten. The officer's fear of reprisals and fear for his own safety did not constitute good cause for his actions.

The Court said that its conscience was shocked by the Board's conclusion "that a corrections officer who refuses to report a threat of violence against an inmate and refuses to render aid to an inmate being beaten could use fear for his own personal safety as good cause justification for his refusal to render aid....We can do nothing but express our outrage" that the DOC's Office of Professional Responsibility was aware of and condoned claimant's conduct and that of others in his situation.

Citing its decision in Williams v. UCBR, 648 A.2d 1321 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1994), the court noted its prior holdings that a "corrections officer, like law enforcement officials, occupy positions of great responsibility and trust, and thus, must adhere to demanding standards, which are higher than those applied to many other professions."

As noted in a concurring opinion, this statement is in direct conflict with the Supreme Court's decision in Navickas v. UCBR, 778 A.2d 284, 290-1 (Pa. 2001), where the court rejected a higher standard of care for a health care worker, stating that that is a "question...of policy...not posed by the Unemployment Compensation Law we are called upon to construe. The Act sets for a single governing standard of willful misconduct, one that does not draw distinctions based upon the type or nature of the employee involved."