ILLINOIS REDEFINES WILLFUL MISCONDUCT

By February 18, 2016Blog

Employers in Illinois may now have an easier time defending themselves against unemployment claims because of changes to the Illinois Unemployment Act that took effect in January combined with a recent decision of the Illinois Supreme Court . 

Changes to the Illinois Unemployment Act went into effect on January 3. The act was amended to add new instances that can qualify as employee misconduct, including:

  1. falsification of an employment application or related documents;
  2. failure to maintain required licenses, registrations, or certifications;
  3. a knowing, repeated violation of attendance policies following a written warning;
  4. damaging employer property through grossly negligent conduct;
  5. insubordination;
  6. consuming alcohol or illegal drugs on the premises in violation of the employer’s policies;
  7. reporting to work under the influence or alcohol or illegal drugs; and
  8. grossly negligent conduct endangering the safety of the individual or co-workers.

According to the Act, employees who are discharged for “misconduct” as defined by the act are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Then earlier this month in the case Petrovic v. Department of Employment Security, the Illinois Supreme Court narrowed the definition of “misconduct” when related to eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Phillip Schreiber and Jennifer Froehlich of Holland & Knight have the details of the case,

In Petrovic, the plaintiff was discharged from a commercial airline carrier…because she requested that a bottle of champagne be delivered to a passenger and requested that the passenger be upgraded to first class from business class when the passenger was otherwise ineligible for a free upgrade. The airline was unable to point to a specific rule or policy that the former employee violated. In other words, there was no rule establishing a protocol as to when food or drink can be comped for a passenger or when it was appropriate to request an upgrade for a passenger who was not otherwise entitled to the upgrade. Rather, the airline relied on a couple of general rules about employee conduct, neither of which squarely addressed the reasons for the plaintiff’s discharge.

The Petrovic Court started with the established principle that misconduct is limited to “a deliberate and willful violation of a reasonable rule or policy of the employer.” This deliberate and willful element “requires evidence that the employee was aware that her conduct was prohibited.” The policy the employer uses to support the misconduct must have been communicated to the employee such that the employee was put on notice that any violations may result in termination.

Michael Carroll simplifies the ruling for us and ties everything together. 

So those three circumstances [workers who knowingly break the rules, engage in illegal behavior or carry out a “prima facie intentional tort,” or breach of contract or trust] may now be added to the eight categories described in the new amendments. Of course, the employer must provide hard evidence of misconduct and indicate specifically which rules were broken to prevail in a challenge of unemployment benefits.

Participants of 501(c) Agencies Trust are invited to contact member services with any questions or concerns.

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