Misconduct and Unemployment Benefits

In a rare appellate decision regarding unemployment benefits, the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld denial of a former Casey's employee's unemployment benefits. The facts in this case are uninteresting: the employee removed discarded soup from the garbage and took it home to feed her dog. This violated a written policy that had been provided and explained to the employee. The employee was terminated.

Generally, misconduct serious enough to justify denial of unemployment benefits is a series of infractions after repeated warnings or one major infraction of an employer's policies. Here, the infraction appears to be minor--one-time removal of $10.00 worth of discarded soup. However, the court focused not on the amount of soup or its status as garbage but on the employee's intentional disregard of rules that she either was aware of or should have been aware of.  It was the obvious intentional disregard that amounted to misconduct in the court's opinion.

 

I rarely advise employers to contest unemployment benefits, but this case does have some take away for employers who choose to contest employee's benefits.

 

1.      Have written policies and provide the policies to your employees. Casey's had a written handbook that was provided to all employees. Employees were required to sign receipt of the handbook and expected them to read the handbook. The policy about wasted foods was clearly stated in the handbook.

2.      Explain important policies to your employees. Casey's held a training meeting that specifically explained its policy regarding wasted foods.

3.      Be consistent in your enforcement. While the facts do not indicate whether Casey's terminated all employees for similar infractions, it's a good idea to be consistent in enforcement. Consistency creates expectations for employees. I would guess if the testimony had shown that Casey's had a written policy, explained the written policy, but never, rarely or even inconsistently enforced the written policy the employee would have received benefits.

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