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Use progressive discipline—or prepare to pay unemployment even if conduct was outrageous

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in Employee Benefits Program,Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Ohio employees who are discharged for just cause aren’t entitled to unemployment compensation payments. The idea is that they caused their own terminations and shouldn’t be rewarded.

But Ohio courts frequently hesitate to cut off unemployment benefits for one-time conduct that may be outrageous—as long as the employee doesn’t have a history of past disciplinary problems and the employer has a progressive discipline program it didn’t use.

Recent case:
Karen Grove worked as a nurse for Brown Memorial Hospital. She had no disciplinary problems until a bizarre prank led to her discharge.

Apparently, during one shift Grove put on a pair of thong underwear over her street clothes, sat on a gurney and put her legs up in the air, stuffed her pants to appear she was a man and rode down the hall. Patients complained and Grove was fired for inappropriate behavior.

She applied for unemployment compensation, but the hospital argued she was fired for cause—she had violated a work rule against horseplay and other inappropriate behavior.

The court saw things differently. It reasoned that since the hospital had a progressive discipline policy, Grove should have been disciplined, not fired. Therefore, she was not terminated for cause and was eligible for unemployment payments. (Grove v. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, No. 2008-A-0066, Court of Appeals of Ohio, 2009)

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