Willful Misconduct

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Q: Can you be denied unemployment compensation if you've been fired?

Yes. You can be denied unemployment compensation when fired, but only if you were fired for "willful misconduct" (43 P.S. § 802(e)). For you to be denied unemployment compensation, it is up to your former employer to prove that you were fired for "willful misconduct". If your former employer can prove your willful misconduct, you may still receive unemployment compensation if you can show that your misconduct was justified or you had good cause for your actions (McLean v. UCBR, 476 Pa 617 (1978)).

Q: What are some examples of "willful misconduct"?

Common examples of willful misconduct include:

1. Deliberate violation of employer rules
You can be denied unemployment compensation when fired for deliberately violating a company rule. Your employer must prove that a rule exists and you broke it (Arbster v. UCBR, 690 A.2d 805 (1997)). Usually, breaking a company rule is not considered "willful misconduct" if it was an accident, or if you didn't know about the rule (BK Foods v. UCBR, 547 A.2d 873 (1988)). Furthermore, breaking a company rule is not willful misconduct, if you have "good cause" to break it, or if the rule is unreasonable (Gillins v. UCBR, 534 Pa. 590 (1993)).

Examples of "good cause" to break a company rule include:
Illness (Thompson v. UCBR, 723 A.2d 743 (1999)).
Fear or injury (Belton v. UCBR, 402 A.2d 571 (1979)).
Physical inability to comply with the rule (Johnson v. UCBR, 422 A.2d 223 (1980)).
Emergency (Porter v. UCBR, 450 A.2d 243 (1982)).
Ignorance of the rule (Williams v. UCBR, 380 A.2d 932 (1977)).
Vagueness of the rule (UCBR v. Bacon, 361 A.2d 505 (1976)). 
For violation of a rule to be "willful misconduct", the rule must be fairly and consistently applied (Spirnak v. UCBR, 557 A.2d 451 (1989)). If your employer has tolerated rule-breaking in the past, your breaking the rule now may not be considered "willful misconduct" (Penn Photomounts v. UCBR, 417 A.2d 1311 (1980)).

2. Failure to follow an employer's instructions
Failure to follow an employer's instructions can be "considered willful" misconduct. However, it is not "willful misconduct" if your employer's demand was unreasonable or your refusal was justified (Frumento v. UCBR, 466 Pa. 81 (1976)). To claim that your employer's demand was unreasonable or your refusal was justified, you must have told your employer why you refused to follow the instruction (unless it is obvious or your employer already knew) (Klapec Trucking v. UCBR, 503 A.2d 1122 (1986)).

3. Absenteeism/ Tardiness
Absenteeism and tardiness is only "willful misconduct" if you don't have "good cause" for you absence/ tardiness, or if you fail to report your absence/ tardiness to your employer, as required by company rules ( Frumento v. UCBR, 466 Pa. 81 (1976)).

Examples of "good cause" for absenteeism/ tardiness include:
Illness (Kindrew v. UCBR, 388 A.2d 801 (1978)).
Transportation problems (Adept Corp. v. UCBR, 437 A.2d 109 (1981)).
Family emergencies (Maldanado v. UCBR, 503 A.2d 95 (1986)).
Lack of child care (Ganter v. UCBR, 723 A.2d 272 (1999)).
Bad weather/ fear of injury (Freedom Valley S & L v. UCBR, 436 A.2d 1054 (1981)).
Religious observances (SEPTA v. UCBR, 422 A.2d 905 (1980)).
Civic duty (Frumento v. UCBR, 466 Pa. 81 (1976)). 
Reasonable belief that you had the day off from work (Alma Illery Med. Center v. UCBR, 437 A.2d 467 (1981)).
Pre-conviction imprisonment (Hawkins v. UCBR, 472 A.2d 1191 (1984)). However, absenteeism because of imprisonment following a conviction is willful misconduct (Wertman v. UCBR, 520 A.2d 900 (1987)).

4. Failing to meet normal standards of behavior
You will be denied unemployment compensation if you are fired for violating certain standards of behavior at work (even if they are not expressly listed in your company's rules), such as:
Sleeping on the job (Biggs v. UCBR, 443 A.2d 1204 (1982)).
Stealing (Kostik v. UCBR, 315 A.2d 308 (1974)).
Fighting (unless self-defense) (Peeples v. UCBR, 522 A.2d 680 (1987)).
Being intoxicated (Ramsey v. UCBR, 450 A.2d 322 (1982))
Lying or falsifying information (Smith v. UCBR, 411 A.2d 280 (1980)).
Using unprovoked abusive or offensive language (Williams v. UCBR, 531 A.2d 88 (1987)).
Intentionally breaching confidentiality (Boyle v. UCBR, 510 A.2d 890 (1986)).
Being disloyal by directly competing with your employer or aiding a competitor (Jordan v. UCBR, 547 A.2d 811 (1988); Burke v. UCBR, 512 A.2d 1367 (1986)).
Engaging in extremely negligent acts (Simmons v. UCBR, 565 A.2d 829 (1989)).

Q: If you are fired for your actions outside of work, can you be denied unemployment compensation?

A: You can be denied unemployment compensation if you were fired for wrongdoing outside of work, but only if:
1) You engaged in some unacceptable conduct, for which you were at fault, and
2) This conduct negatively affects your ability to properly do your work (Martin v. 
UCBR, 713 A.2d 753 (1998)).
For example, if you are in a position of trust (such as a security guard or a clerk who handles money), and you are fired because you were convicted of a certain crime (such as theft), you will probably be denied unemployment compensation. A criminal conviction is considered unacceptable conduct that you are at fault for, and since you are in a position of trust, the conviction is seen as negatively affecting your ability to properly do your work.

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