Obscenity, drunk-dialing: No unemployment

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in Compensation and Benefits,Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

In a win for common sense, the Court of Appeals of Minnesota has reversed an unemployment compensation award to a supervisor who used obscenities at work and then drunk-dialed a subordinate more than once.

Initially, he received unemployment after arguing that his employer routinely ignored rules against obscene language and never disciplined anyone for behavior that smacked of sexual harassment.

Recent case: Dean, who worked as a distribution manager, had signed a sexual harassment and behavior guideline that prohibited harassment, as well as “obscene language and gestures” in the workplace.

Dean made several suggestive comments at work. Once he responded to another employee’s comment that a piece of equipment was “junk” by saying, “You can touch my junk if you want,” while swiveling and thrusting his hips toward the employee.

Another time, he called a subordinate at home after hours while intoxicated. She reported the incident. The woman told him not to call again—and so did the company.

Dean didn’t take the hint. In fact, when he called the subordinate again, he called her “a slut and a whore.” This time, the company fired Dean.

He filed for and received un­­em­­ployment benefits, persuading Minnesota Unemployment Insur­­ance officials that the company had never enforced its policies in the past and that, therefore, Dean’s behavior wasn’t enough to constitute misconduct.

The company appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed, blocking Dean’s benefits. It reasoned that, at the very least, the second drunk-calling incident qualified as misconduct because Dean had been warned not to make any more after-hours calls while intoxicated. (Berghoff v. Farm Seed & Nursery, No. A12-0377, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2013)

Final note: Rules are no good unless you enforce them. Had Dean not made the second call, he might have secured benefits.

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