Tuesday, June 09, 2009

UC- willful misconduct - violation of employer rule - good cause

Roberts v. UCBR - Cmwlth. Court - June 8, 2009


Claimant, a client care worker in a residential facility for persons with special needs, had good cause for his violation of an employer rule.

Claimant was directly responsible for the care of a “one-to-one” client who was subject to “close reach supervision … at all times due to behavioral concerns.” Employer’s rule required close supervision of one-to-one clients. However, these clients were alone and unattended between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. except for checks every thirty minutes.

Good cause is established “where the action of the employee is justified or reasonable under the circumstances.” Frumento v. UCBR, 466 Pa. 81, 87, 351 A.2d 631, 634 (1976). Precedent teaches that taking actions to advance a patient’s health and safety will constitute good cause to violate an employer’s work rule.

In this case, the need to retrieve Client’s breakfast provided Claimant good cause for his violation of Employer’s rule. Claimant had the responsibility to make sure Client was properly fed, and he testified that because pantry staff was often not available, client care workers routinely retrieve food from the kitchen for their clients and later put it away. Claimant argues that a “[f]ailure on my part to get and reserve my client food from the kitchen could keep him hungry until lunch.” Claimant acted in the best interests of both Client and Employer by going to the kitchen to secure Client’s breakfast leaving Client, who was secured in his bed with his bedrail in place, for a brief time -- five (5) minutes.

Even though the UCBR found all of the employer testimony credible, there was uncontradicted testimony from Claimant that Employer permitted and even required “one-to-one” clients to be left alone briefly, notwithstanding its close supervision rule. There was a question, therefore, about whether Claimant even violated Employer’s rule.

Assuming Employer’s rule was inflexible, however, Claimant showed good cause to violate it. Claimant was attending to a basic need of Client, having secured Client in his bed, while he left Client for approximately five minutes. The evidence established good cause for Claimant’s violation of the work rule and, thus, the Board erred in finding that Claimant’s actions constituted willful misconduct.