Wednesday, February 24, 2016

UC - willful misconduct - violation of employer rule must be deliberate

Chester Community Charter School v. UCBR – February 17, 2016 – unreported* memorandum opinion

Court affirmed the UCBR decision that employer failed to make out a case for willful misconduct, since it did not prove that the claimant’s violation of a work rule was intentional or deliberate.

An employer alleging willful misconduct bears the burden of proving the existence of a reasonable work rule and its violation. Daniels v. UCBR, 755 A.2d 729, 731 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000). The employer must also show that the employee intentionally or deliberately violated the work rule. Tongel v. UCBR, 501 A.2d 716, 717 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1985); see also MacFarlane v. UCBR, 317 A.2d 324, 326 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1974) (“In all these definitions [of willful misconduct] there is an element indicating a consciousness of wrongdoing on the part of the employe[e].”). An inadvertent or negligent violation of an employer’s rule may not constitute willful misconduct. Grieb v. UCBR, 827 A.2d 422, 426 (Pa. 2003); Morysville Body Works, Inc. v. UCBR, 419 A.2d 238, 239 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980). Therefore, a determination of what constitutes willful misconduct requires consideration of all the relevant circumstances. Rebel v. UCBR, 723 A.2d 156, 158 (Pa. 1998).

If an employer meets its initial burden to establish the existence of a reasonable work rule and its deliberate violation, the burden shifts to the claimant to demonstrate good cause for violating the rule. Guthrie v. UCBR, 738 A.2d 518, 522 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999). However, where an employer fails to carry its initial burden of proving a deliberate violation, it is unnecessary to consider whether the claimant’s conduct constitutes good cause. Philadelphia Parking Authority v. UCBR, 1 A.3d 965, 969 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010).

The court rejected the employer argument that it need only prove the existence and violation of the work rule, stating that all of the cases cited by employer involved a prior specific warning that the claimant’s behavior violated employer rules.  It also discussed Heitczman v. UCBR, 638 A.2d 461 (1994), where it held that the claimant’s conduct there involved disobedience of a direct instruction rather than violation of a rulel.

* An unreported Commonwealth Court case may not be cited binding precedent but can be cited for its persuasive value.  See 210 Pa. Code § 69.414(b) and Pa. R.A.P.  3716

If the case is old, the link may have become stale and may not work, but you can use the case name, court, and date to find the opinion in another source (e.g., Westlaw, Lexis, Google Scholar)