Tuesday, March 06, 2018

UC - willful misconduct - employer rule v. statute

Crabbe v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – February 28, 2018 – en banc – 28 pp.

Held: Claimant committed willful misconduct by failing to get her background checks updated by the date specified in her employer’s regulations, July 1, rather than the deadline specified in the relevant statute, December 31. 

Majority -- The majority found that claimant, the manager for a Police Athletic League facility,  had waived the argument about the disparity between the ER rule and the statute and that, even if she hadn’t, she committed willful misconduct by violating the ER rule.  The majority relied heavily on the fact that claimant had received numerous reminders about the need to renew her background checks---even though date specified by the ER and the UC authorities was not consistent with the date in the relevant statute.

 Dissent---The two dissenters “would hold that in a willful misconduct case, the failure of the employer to explain why its new rule deviates from the predicate statutory requirements is fatal to its attempts to defeat unemployment compensation for the terminated employee. Stated differently, [they]I would reverse the denial of unemployment benefits because Employer failed to explain why its new rule was reasonable in light of the deviation from the predicate statutory requirements.” 

The dissent also noted that ‘[a]t the time of termination, Claimant had two of the three clearances required. Further, she had paperwork establishing that she applied for the third clearance. In fact, she applied with the help of her supervisor. Claimant physically received the last clearance after she was terminated. . . .However, there were no findings by the UC authorities, and hence no fact-based discussion by the Majority, as to why Claimant’s “paper trail” or “proof of applications” did not satisfy Employer’s new rule. To the contrary, the UC authorities, after noting Employer’s “paper trail” rule . . . . found that Claimant was escorted from the building . . . .did not have all the clearances submitted to the employer as required under the Law.” . . . .The UC authorities made no findings whatsoever as to the dates of Claimant’s applications or her ‘paper trail.’”

The dissent also noted that the “ ‘proof of applications’ question was specifically raised in Claimant’s appeal to the Board, but the Board never answered it. . . . .(“Claimant had previously been told that as long as she documented her continuing efforts to get the certification, she would not be terminated. [Employer] terminated her despite this promise.”). This unexplained gap in factual findings, together with the referee’s erroneous legal statement as to the statutory compliance date for Claimant, cause real concern whether the UC authorities’ misunderstanding of the predicate statutory requirements clouded their judgment as to conduct amounting to willful misconduct.”

Without citing any supporting case law, both the dissent and majority recognized that “an employer’s prerogative to impose rules which are more stringent than those set by the General Assembly.”