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Willful misconduct bars unemployment

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An important reminder: Willful misconduct can bar a former employee from receiving unemployment benefits.

Recent case: Yitagesu accepted a job as an intermittent food service worker at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA). “Inter-mittent” was defined as “an employee who works an irregular and uncertain schedule which alternately begins, ceases and begins again as the needs of the agency require.”

He was informed that his position required regular attendance, flexibility, acceptance of work assignments as needed and accurate completion of payroll time reports. He was told to provide advance notice if he was going to be absent. The MDVA required intermittent workers to accept 60% to 70% of shifts offered and to show up for shifts that had been accepted.

Yitagesu worked an average of 32 hours per week until he was injured at work. After he returned to work, he declined several shifts and failed to show up for one shift that he agreed to work. MDVA discharged him because he made himself available to work for only half the shifts that were offered to him.

Yitagesu applied for unemployment compensation benefits. The department opposed granting unemployment, arguing that he was guilty of willful misconduct. MDVA pointed out that supervisors had even met with Yitagesu and explained that if he kept turning down shifts, he would face termination.

First Yitagesu argued that he hadn’t really been offered or rejected that many shifts. The court found the department’s tally more credible. Yitagesu then argued that he wasn’t guilty of willful misconduct, but the court disagreed. It said turning down shifts after the employer warned doing so might mean discharge amounted to willful misconduct. It barred benefits. (Wolde v. MDVA, No. A16-0505, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2016)

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