OK to take your time probing misconduct–that won’t affect unemployment claim

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in Compensation and Benefits,Firing,Human Resources

Good news for employers that hold off on firing an employee for an act that would otherwise be willful misconduct, making the employee ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits. As long as you can explain why you delayed actually terminating the employee, she won’t receive unemployment benefits.

Recent case: Elina was in charge of food service for an adult day-care facility. Because it served food, the center had to display a current health certificate. During one shift, other workers went looking for Elina and discovered that she was across the street at a deli. She had the center’s health certificate with her.

When asked why, she explained that the deli had just learned it was about to be inspected, but its certificate had expired. She said she took the day care center’s certificate over as a favor to the deli owners.

Two months later, she was terminated for willful misconduct. She filed for benefits, arguing that if her conduct was so terrible, it made no sense for the employer to wait two months before firing her.

The court disagreed after hearing the facility’s explanation. A manager recounted that Elina went on vacation after the incident, while the facility conducted an investigation. Thus, the delay was not because anyone believed Elina’s misconduct wasn’t serious, but because it wanted to get the decision right. That made sense to the court, which denied unemployment benefits despite the delay. (Umedman v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, No. 2077 C.D. 2012, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, 2012)

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