Thursday, July 15, 2010

UC - willful misconduct - sleeping on job - medical condition

Philadelphia Parking Authority v. UCBR - Cmwlth. Court - July 14, 2010

A claimant is not guilty of willful misconduct even when she admittedly slept on the job, under the circumstances of this case, since a) her violation of the employer rule was not deliberate, and b) she had a physical condition (sleep apnea) which caused the conduct and about which she informed the employer.

The court discussed claimant's proof of her physical condition at length, but ultimately resolved the case on the ground the employer did not prove that claimant had deliberately violated the employer rules against sleeping at work.

The record reveals that Claimant’s position involved sitting in the money room for hours with nothing to do and that she would get drowsy. Claimant recognized the problem and attempted to address it by informing Employer that she was tiring and asking for additional work to keep her busy and alert. However, with the exception of two small assignments, Employer did not provide her with additional work or take any other action to remedy the situation. Although Claimant fell asleep during her shift, Claimant attempted to resolve her drowsiness problem in a responsible manner that protected the interests of Employer. Considering Claimant’s actions in light of all of the circumstances of this case, we conclude that Employer failed to prove that Claimant deliberately or intentionally violated its work rules by sleeping during her shift. Because Employer failed to meet its initial burden, the burden never shifted to Claimant to demonstrate good cause for her actions, and we need not address whether Claimant’s testimony was sufficient to establish that medical problems provided her with good cause for sleeping on the job.

Here is the court's discussion about how a claimant must prove a medical condition/physical illness:

Physical illness can constitute good cause for a claimant's noncompliance with an employer's directive. Brillhart v. UCBR, 447 A.2d 697 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1982). To establish such a claim, a claimant is not required to produce expert testimony, but rather need only introduce “competent evidence”: The distinction between ‘competent evidence’ … and the ‘competent medical evidence’ requirement articulated in the opinion of the court below is vital. The former is a broader standard which allows an applicant to meet the burden with his own testimony and supporting documents. The latter is a more stringent requirement which could result in the denial of benefits simply because an applicant fails to provide the expert testimony of a physician even where such testimony would be superfluous or cumulative. The broader standard more effectively comports with this Court's view that the Unemployment Compensation Law must be liberally and broadly construed. Steffy v. UCBR, 499 Pa. 367, 372, 453 A.2d 591, 594 (1982) (emphasis added). This Court subsequently interpreted Steffy to allow a claimant to satisfy his or her burden of production by presenting her testimony and/or supporting documents. Lee Hospital v. UCBR, 637 A.2d 695 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1994); Judd v. UCBR, 496 A.2d 1377 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1985). In Goettler Distributing, Inc. v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 508 A.2d 630 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1986), this Court expressly concluded that the disjunctive “and/or” interpretation of Steffy was the better analysis and was consistent with the broad and liberal interpretation of the Law.

In a concurring opinion, one panel member addressed proof of a medical/physical condition as follows:

I believe that, ordinarily, corroborative medical evidence, either documentary or testimonial, should be required, or at least some corroborating circumstances. Thus, I would revisit those prior published opinions which suggest, in dicta,4 that the claimant’s testimony alone is sufficient as a matter of law. I would not do so here, however, for two reasons. Arguably, medical condition or not, anyone left alone in a room for hours on end late at night with nothing to do might well fall asleep unintentionally. Second, because of this claimant’s significant prior medical history and pre-termination complaints to employer, I would find her credited testimony to be sufficient.