Employee Eligible for Unemployment Benefits When Policy Violation Protects Patient Care

As a Pennsylvania unemployment compensation attorney who represents employees at unemployment compensation hearings where the employee is appealing a denial of benefits, I have observed that many employers do not understand that the fact that the employer may have a legitimate reason for terminating an employee, does not mean that the employee will be denied the right to collect unemployment compensation benefits. Employers frequently confuse the right to terminate an employee with the employee’s right to collect unemployment compensation benefits. Pennsylvania unemployment compensation law recognizes that while Pennsylvania generally follows the principle of employment at will, and that the employer has the right to terminate employee for any non-discriminatory reason, including a violation of the employer’s policy, that right does not preclude the employee from collecting unemployment compensation benefits unless the employee engages in willful misconduct at the workplace.

Pennsylvania unemployment law provides that an employee is ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits when the employee’s termination is due to willful misconduct connected with the employee’s work. Pennsylvania courts have defined “willful misconduct” as a willful disregard for the employer’s interests; a deliberate violation of the employer’s rules; disregard for standards of behavior than an employer can expect; or negligence that reflects an intentional disregard of the interest of the employer or an employee’s duties to an employer. The employer has the burden of proving willful misconduct. An employer alleging willful misconduct must show that the employee violated the employer’s rules or policies and the employee’s actions were intentional or deliberate. Once the employer meets this burden, the burden then shifts to the employee to show good cause for a rule or policy violation.

The Commonwealth Court’s recent decision in Washington Health Systems Greene v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (Cmwlth Ct. Pa. September 21, 2016) demonstrates that an employee may be entitled to benefits even when a policy violation occurs. The employee, an emergency department registered nurse, was involved in the treatment of a patient at the hospital when the patient’s companion was also present in the emergency room. The employee was outside the treatment room gathering information and recording it on a computer while the companion was pacing outside the treatment room, loudly proclaiming that he wanted another nurse to be removed from the treatment room. The employee testified that the companion loudly threatened to “knock his teeth in” and made another threat. The employee testified that he threatened to call hospital security and he had to speak loudly to the companion to speak over him. The employee was subsequently terminated for violating the employer’s policies which prohibit disrespectful or unprofessional behavior at the workplace, and for conduct detrimental to a patient’s care and use of profanity.

The Court concluded that the Unemployment Compensation Board was correct when it found that the Claimant employee was eligible for unemployment compensation benefits because of the patient’s emergency situation, the employee’s active participation in screening for care, and the employee’s proximity to the companion. Thus, under the circumstances it was not possible to conclude that the employee acted unreasonably by failing to immediately notify his supervisor of the threat, as the employer’s policy technically required. In addition, the record supported the fact that it was the companion, not the claimant, who acted unreasonably and disrupted the patient’s care and that the employee’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances.

There are many nuances in Pennsylvania unemployment compensation law. Many times, employees are successful when they retain an experienced Pennsylvania unemployment compensation benefits attorney to appeal a decision denying unemployment benefits. The attorney will prepare the employee for the Referee’s hearing and represent the employee at the unemployment compensation hearing. For more information about Pennsylvania unemployment compensation claims and Abramson Employment Law see http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1491925.html

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Filed under Employment DIscrimination, Employment Law, Unemployment

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