Continuing our series to help employers understand the unemployment process, (catch up by reading this post) we now talk about circumstances when employees should not receive unemployment benefits. Connecticut employers contributed over $46,000,000 to the unemployment program last July, and protecting your contributions from undeserving employees (and maintaining a low unemployment experience rate) is just as important as a deserving employee receiving benefits.
Employees must be unemployed through no fault of their own. When a worker is fired, benefits will be awarded unless the conduct that caused the discharge is “disqualifying” under the law.
EMPLOYEE MISCONDUCT OR “DISQUALIFICATION” FROM BENEFITS UNDER CONNECTICUT LAW
If a worker has been fired or suspended, he may be “disqualified” from benefits if the employer proves one of the following reasons for separation:
1. Wilful misconduct in the course of the worker’s employment. The term “wilful misconduct” means deliberate misconduct in wilful disregard of the employer’s interest, or a single knowing violation of a reasonable and uniformly enforced rule or policy of the employer, when reasonably applied, provided such violation is not a result of the employee’s incompetence. In the case of absence from work, “wilful misconduct” means an employee must be absent without notice or good cause for three separate instances within a 12-month period.
2. Conduct which is a felony under Connecticut or federal law and occurred in the course of his employment.
3. Conduct which constitutes larceny of property or service whose value exceeds 25 dollars in the course of his employment. Conduct which constitutes larceny of cash, regardless of the amount of such currency, is also disqualifying.
4. Participation in a strike which is illegal under federal or state law, provided such violation is not a result of the employee’s incompetence. As stated above, in the case of absence from work, “wilful misconduct” means an employee must be absent without notice or good cause for three separate instances within a 12-month period.
5. Employee was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 30 days or longer and had begun serving that sentence.
6. Employee was discharged or suspended because he was disqualified under state or federal law from performing the work for which he was hired as a result of a drug or alcohol testing program mandated by and conducted in accordance with such law.
While these are the rules, we find in our practice that they are often inconsistently applied. Whether an employer prevails or not can depend significantly upon the particular referee hearing the case. We’ve seen employees receive benefits who have clearly stolen from their employer, while other employees who should have received benefits, do not. In one case from 2011, (read it here) an employee who drove oil trucks for a small business lost his CDL license for a DWI. While his conduct was "wilful," he received benefits because the conduct did not occur in the "course of his employment."
There are reasons to not fight unemployment, including creating more hostility in the former employee, who may then seek counsel, who may then raise other more expensive claims including wrongful termination or discrimination for example.
Hiring an attorney to represent your business in an unemployment hearing may seem too expensive, that's why we offer flat fees for most hearings, and also include these hearings as part of our “Your General Counsel Services” retainer program. Check it out here or give us a call.