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Act fast on firing for misconduct, or risk being liable for unemployment compensation

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in Firing,Human Resources

If you want to fire someone for misconduct, here’s a good reason not to drag your feet on it. If the delay is too long between the alleged misconduct and the termination, the employee may get unemployment compensation.

The apparent reasoning: If the misconduct was so serious, why wouldn’t the employer terminate right away?

Minnesota employees fired for unsatisfactory work are eligible for unemployment, while those guilty of misconduct are not. By waiting, employers are implicitly saying that the misconduct is more like unsatisfactory work than misconduct.

Recent case: Jovita Luckett went to work as a bus driver. After an accident that wasn’t her fault, her employer conducted a drug test as required by law. The first specimen turned out to be “diluted” so Luckett was retested. The second try also resulted in a diluted specimen, which Luckett attributed to having had to drink large amounts of water in order to produce a sample. Neither specimen contained measurable prohibited drugs or alcohol.

Three months later, Luckett was terminated for insubordination after leaving a rude message for a supervisor—and for producing a diluted drug sample. Her employer opposed eligibility for unemployment compensation.

The court allowed the benefits, citing the long time between the drug test and Luckett’s discharge as evidence the employer hadn’t viewed drug-test problems as particularly serious. Essentially, the court didn’t buy that misconduct was the reason Luckett was fired. (Luckett v. Center­­line Charter, No. A11-251, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2011)

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