Don’t Disqualify Yourself
Unemployment compensation can provide benefits during a difficult time. However, if an employee commits willful misconduct, benefits will be denied. In a recent appeals court case, an employee should have consulted an attorney to inform her whether the facts of her case supported willful misconduct and how to prepare for the hearing. Instead, she represented herself and pursued a claim which resulted in an unfavorable, and potentially embarrassing, decision for her.
Ms. Walker lost her case even though the employer did not attend the hearing. An employer must prove willful misconduct and usually when it does not attend the hearing, it is difficult for an employer to prove its case because there is no employer witness testimony and the information in the file is hearsay which can be objected to.
Ms. Walker did not object to the hearsay information and her own testimony proved the employer’s case. An attorney could have made the proper objections which would have eliminated all of the employer’s evidence. An attorney could have prepared and structured her testimony to provide basic information and at least give her more of a chance of success. So, what were the facts that lead to an unfavorable decision?
Ms. Walker worked as a food service work manager and one of her duties required her to travel in order to submit invoices and forms to a supervisor. After delivering forms to a supervisor in the morning and while on company time, she visited a car rental agency to return a rental car and pick up her personal car. This visit caused her to run late, but she failed to call her employer to inform it that she was running late. She decided not to return to work that day. However, she called a co-worker who used her social security number to clock her out at the end of the day.
Ms. Walker returned to work the next day and a week later the employer terminated her for theft of time and falsification of records. Surveillance cameras captured the co-worker using her number to clock her out.
Ms. Walker was denied benefits due to willful misconduct. She claimed “it was [an] accident that somebody clock[ed] me out” and she did not call her supervisor because she heard he was leaving work early. She admitted to being on company time while retrieving her personal car from the rental company but she could not produce the rental agreement. The referee thought her story was too coincidental that someone had her social security number and clocked her out, and that she didn’t call someone else at her employer.
The appeals court affirmed the denial of benefits. As the appeals court noted, Ms. Walker never explained why she used company time to handle personal errands from 9:30 A.M. until the end of the work day while on company time and being paid her wages. The courts have held that “receiving pay for hours not worked or using work time to attend to personal affairs without authorization can constitute willful misconduct”.
Perhaps, this case could not have been won at a hearing due to the facts. However, an attorney could have advised her of the weakness of her case and potentially not to pursue a hearing and an appeal. Now, there is a reported, public opinion detailing her willful misconduct.
Walker v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, (Pa.Cmwlth. 2019).
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