October 2018 Briefly: An Unemployment Case Analysis

Case Analysis: Pharmacy Tech Discharged for Violating Employer’s Confidentiality Policy

Background

The claimant, a pharmacy tech, was discharged for violating the employer’s policy regarding confidentiality of patient information. She was disqualified from benefits upon a finding that she was discharged for misconduct connected with the work. She appealed. A hearing was scheduled before an administrative law judge (ALJ).

At the Hearing

The Employer’s Evidence: The employer’s witnesses testified that the claimant was given the employer’s policies at hire. One policy provided was to “maintain the privacy and confidentiality of patient information and pharmacy records” and not disclose confidential information to anyone. The policy provided that violation of it could result in immediate discharge. On the date of the final incident, the claimant was approached by a coworker who showed her a prescription, which had been filled for a former coworker. The prescription gave the claimant and her coworker information about the former coworker’s medical condition. The claimant later joined a conversation about the former coworker’s medical condition. As a result of those conversations, the claimant was discharged.

The Claimant’s Evidence:  The claimant testified that she did not violate the policy. She stated that she was approached by her coworker with the prescription and did not inform anyone that the medication had been prescribed. When she joined the conversation already taking place, she was certain that the others had already been informed of the former coworker’s prescription by the current coworker.

The Hearing Decision

The ALJ found that the claimant was discharged for misconduct connected with the work, and she was disqualified from benefits. The claimant violated the employer’s confidentiality policy because by joining in the break room conversation, the claimant did not maintain the confidentiality of the former coworker’s medical information. The claimant appealed. She claimed that she did not violate the policy as written because she did not disclose confidential information to anyone. She had just participated in conversations about it. 

The Board of Review Decision

The Board of Review (BOR) disagreed with the ALJ’s decision and reversed it. The BOR found that the employer’s policy provided that the claimant should “maintain” the privacy of the prescription information. Since the claimant did not disclose any confidential information herself, she did not deliberately violate the policy. She was not discharged for misconduct connected with the work, and in-turn was allowed unemployment benefits.                                                                                     

Takeaways

  1. For a finding of misconduct, it may be necessary to prove that the claimant deliberately violated a policy. In this case, the claimant was able to convince the ALJ that she did not disclose any confidential information. In a similar case, be prepared to provide evidence and testimony showing that the claimant’s actions violated your policy as written. What if your policy does not specifically prohibit the claimant’s actions? You might be able to argue a “deliberate disregard of the employer’s interests." This could result in a finding of misconduct.
  2. When planning evidence and testimony to be presented, a hearing representative can be helpful.  Once the employer is finished with its evidence, the claimant is offered the opportunity to offer their evidence and testimony. Part of that evidence may include a justification for their behavior.  What if a claimant’s evidence shows that their actions might not have been a deliberate violation? If you understand the claimant’s position prior to hearing, you might be able to present evidence in rebuttal.  Shows that his or her testimony does not excuse or justify their violation. A hearing representative will assist in preparing for hearing and will participate with you. They can  help you plan for additional evidence and testimony, which could affect the outcome of the case.

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*Please remember:  Unemployment Laws vary from state to state. The result in this case might be different from a case in your state.

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