California Supreme Court: Refusal to Sign Disciplinary Document No Bar to UI Claim

Jul 7 2014 - Benefits, Termination - Gail Cecchettini Whaley

Last week, the California Supreme Court ruled that an employee’s refusal to sign a disciplinary notice confirming receipt was not misconduct but was “at most, a good faith error in judgment” that did not disqualify him from receiving unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Under the Unemployment Insurance Code, an individual is ineligible for UI benefits if he/she has been discharged for misconduct. Paratransit, Inc. v. Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, No. S204221 (July 3, 2014)

The case involved a vehicle operator with Paratranist, Inc. A passenger complained that the vehicle operator harassed her. A company investigation determined that the misconduct occurred, and the company issued a disciplinary notice to the operator. The vehicle operator was asked to sign the disciplinary notice confirming receipt, but not admitting any wrongdoing – a requirement that was imposed by the governing collective bargaining agreement. The vehicle operator repeatedly refused to sign the disciplinary notice, and he was terminated for insubordination.

The court held that there was no dispute over whether the employer was within its rights to fire the employee for insubordination. Instead, the sole question was whether the employee’s refusal to sign the disciplinary notice amounted to misconduct barring him from receiving UI benefits after termination. The California Supreme Court held that it did not.

In reaching its conclusion that the employee was eligible for UI benefits, the court took into account:

  • “‘the humanitarian purpose of the unemployment compensation statutes’”
  • “‘the reasonableness of [Claimant’s] act from his standpoint in the light of the circumstances facing him and the knowledge possessed by him at the time’”

This case will be covered in more detail in the July 10 edition of the HRCalifornia Extra newsletter.

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content

 

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