Understanding Unemployment Compensation and Absenteeism

When discussing unemployment compensation with employers, one scenario seems to come up again and again; absenteeism/tardiness policies.  All too often employers who discharge employees for violating such policies feel it is not worth their time to contest unemployment benefits, believing it to be practically impossible to contest. In actuality, nothing can be further from the truth.

When dealing with unemployment compensation centering on absenteeism, I remind employers of a Minnesota Supreme Court case which ruled in favor of an employer, and in doing so clarified the term “employment misconduct.” The facts are familiar.  After being discharged for violating the company’s absenteeism policy, the employee applied for unemployment compensation benefits.  Ultimately, the Court of Appeals granted unemployment compensation agreeing with the employee’s argument that he was unaware his absences placed his job at risk because the employer failed to follow its disciplinary policy.

In overturning the decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court cited the familiar, and binding, definition of employment misconduct as “a serious violation of the standards of behavior the employer has the right to expect of the employee.”  In clarifying this cryptic standard the Court stated “the focus of the inquiry is the employee’s conduct.”  In other words, the employer’s application of its disciplinary policy was irrelevant in relation to unemployment compensation because the spotlight should be placed squarely on the circumstances surrounding the employee’s absences.

The practical application is the key to success depends on the facts of the case and the ability to review the evidence, while knowing what an unemployment judge needs to make a favorable decision.  For example, notating sick or ill on an attendance record is likely to take a particular absence out of play for purposes of proving misconduct. Therefore, employers who are unsure of the reason for an employee’s absence should not merely assume an employee is sick because the assumption plays against them at the hearing.  Further, although an employer has a right to expect its employees to work when scheduled, the expectation means nothing if evidence is not presented showing the employee knew of the expectation and the potential consequences for failing to meet it. Consequently, showing the importance of an employee being on-time or present in their particular position along with the consequences to the business for failing to do so is vital. Unemployment compensation judges have frequently explained that without this information it is extremely difficult to determine how serious an absence is, making it more difficult to find in an employer’s favor.

Employers that have questions regarding unemployment compensation, or any other employment law needs can contact Rinke Noonan.

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