Thursday, April 14, 2011

UC- willful misconduct - violation of work rule - no proof of "willful"

McBride v. UCBR - Cmwlth. Court - april 14, 2011 - unreported memorandum decision

Willful misconduct has been judicially defined as that misconduct which must evidence the wanton and willful disregard of employer's interest, the deliberate violation of rules, the disregard of standards of behavior which an employer can rightfully expect from his employee, or negligence which manifests culpability, wrongful intent, evil design, or intentional substantial disregard for the employer's interest, or the employee's duties and obligations. Frumento v. UCBR, 466 Pa. 81, 351 A.2d 631 (1976). Whether an employee's conduct constituted willful misconduct is a matter of law subject to this Court's review. Miller v. UCBR, 405 A.2d 1034 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1979). The burden of proving willful misconduct rests with the employer. Brant v. UCBR, 477 A.2d 596 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984).

Where, as is here, a claimant is discharged for violation of a work rule or policy, the employer must establish both the existence of the reasonable work rule and its violation. Brunson v. UCBR, 570 A.2d 1096 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1990). Where the employer proves the existence of a rule, the reasonableness of the rule and the fact of its violation, the burden shifts to the claimant to prove that she had good cause for her action. Guthrie v. UCBR, 738 A.2d 518 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999).

An employer “must present evidence indicating that the conduct was of an intentional and deliberate nature” in order to prove willful misconduct. Grieb v. UCBR, 573 Pa. 594, 600, 827 A.2d 422, 426 (2003). The deliberate violation of an employer’s rules or policies is generally considered to be willful misconduct. Navickas v. UCBR, 567 Pa. 298, 304, 787 A.2d 284, 288 (2001). Critically, to be disqualifying, the employee’s violation of a rule must be knowing and deliberate. An inadvertent rule violation is not willful misconduct. BK Foods, Inc. v. UCBR, 547 A.2d 873 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1988).

. Employer failed to satisfy its burden of establishing a prima facie case of willful misconduct in light of the facts and totality of the circumstances. Employer did not offer any documents or testimony, during the three valid hearings conducted before the Referee, establishing the existence of a reasonable work policy/rule and a deliberate violation by Claimant of Employer’s rules or policies. The Board found, presumably based on Claimant’s testimony, that Claimant was aware of Employer’s policies and that Claimant violated those policies.

However, Claimant did not testify that she deliberately violated any of Employer’s policies. Claimant maintained throughout this matter, beginning with her appeal letter and ending with her testimony, that she did not commit any of the alleged violations with the deliberate intent of committing willful misconduct. Moreover, Employer offered no evidence to refute Claimant’s assertions.

In making its findings, the Board specifically credited Employer’s testimony that Claimant’s actions were in violation of Employer’s policies. The Board also resolved all conflicts in the testimony in favor of Employer and concluded that Claimant’s behavior rose to the level of willful misconduct.

Again, Employer did not present any testimony regarding Claimant’s actions nor did Employer present any specific testimony or evidence that its policies were reasonable and that Claimant’s actions were a deliberate or intentional violation of Employer’s policies.

Accordingly, we have no choice but to conclude that Employer failed to meet its burden that Claimant deliberately violated its reasonable policies and that the Board’s findings, that purportedly support the Board’s conclusion that Claimant committed willful misconduct, are not supported by substantial evidence.

The Board’s order is reversed.