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Repeated outbursts bar unemployment comp

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in Human Resources

Employers have a right to expect a certain level of decorum in the workplace. While the standard may vary by the nature and type of work—for example, construction workers may not act with the understated civility of funeral home directors—there’s no need to put up with crude language and threatening behavior.

Employees fired for such behavior won’t likely be able to collect unemployment compensation, since their own misdeeds caused them to become unemployed.

Recent case: Libbie Sexton worked as a probation officer for the Warren County Court and went on approved leave. She found out while watching the evening news that she had been demoted to probation clerk.

Sexton came into the office and confronted one of the judges about her job change. At one point she screamed obscenities, expressing in graphic terms what she thought of the demotion. Not willing to leave well enough alone, she returned several days later and confronted her immediate supervisor, yelling at him so loudly that the sheriff’s office called to offer assistance.

When Sexton returned from leave, the court fired her for using profanity (and also for allegedly clocking in for overtime but not working). She filed for unemployment compensation, but was turned down. So she sued.

The case worked its way up to the Court of Appeals of Ohio, which denied her benefits. The court reasoned that Sexton wasn’t the victim of economic forces over which she had no control—she caused her own predicament.

The court also said two outbursts were more than enough to justify denying benefits, distinguishing Sexton’s case from another in which a one-time outburst didn’t lead to lost benefits. (Warren County Auditor v. Libbie Sexton, et al., No. CA2006-10-124, Court of Appeals of Ohio, 12th Appellate District, 2007)

Final note: Thinking about handling unemployment compensation cases in-house? That may not be the best move, especially if you think the employee might sue for discrimination. It’s best to get legal advice as soon as possible so nothing you say during the unemployment compensation hearing will tie you down later.

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