Case Analysis:Claimant was absent from the work area and found "resting" in locker room
A company discharged its employee for being away from her assigned workstation for an extended amount of time. She filed for unemployment benefits. The state said the claimant did not qualify for benefits because she was discharged for misconduct. She disagreed with that decision and appealed. An administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing.
At the Hearing
The Employer’s Evidence:
The employer testified that the claimant, who worked the overnight shift, was not in her assigned work area when her team leader went to reassign the claimant to work in another area. The claimant was not on a scheduled break and should have been in the work area with the rest of her team. The claimant’s supervisor had the claimant repeatedly paged. They also searched the employer’s premises for the claimant from 3 a.m. until 5:45 a.m. The supervisor located the claimant at 5:45 a.m. in the employee locker room. She was found lounging in a chair in a reclining position with a towel covering her face. The supervisor did not say anything to the claimant at the time, but reported the incident to Human Resources. During the course of the claimant’s employment the employer had given the claimant multiple warnings and suspended her for attendance, avoiding her job duties and leaving her work area without permission. The claimant was given the employer’s policies at the time of hire. The employer determined the claimant was away from her work station and sleeping on the job from 3 a.m. to 5:45 a.m, and discharged the claimant.
The Claimant’s Evidence:
The claimant testified she heard one of the pages, but did not respond because she was on her break. The claimant denied she was not in her assigned work area from 3 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. She testified she was away from her work station from 4 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. because she was cleaning up a spill. She was not aware that her supervisor was looking for her. The claimant further testified that she saw her supervisor enter the locker room. However, she did not say anything because she was on her scheduled 15-minute break and she was resting. The claimant admitted that she was lounging on a chair and had her eyes closed.
The Hearing Decision
The ALJ found:
The claimant denied under oath that she was either sleeping or avoiding work.
Although the employer provided evidence that the claimant had been warned on numerous occasions for avoiding work, the employer did not meet the burden of proving the claimant had either avoided work or been asleep on the date of the final incident.
Since the claimant denied wrongdoing the employer needed to provide a corroborating witness or evidence and failed to do so.
The claimant was found to be discharged but not for misconduct and allowed benefits.
The employer appealed, arguing:
The claimant’s testimony did not fully account for the entire time the claimant was missing, and the employer established that the claimant was not involved in cleaning up a spill or working in any other area during those hours.
The employer presented first-hand testimony that the claimant was not at her assigned workstation for almost three hours. Also, the claimant failed to advise her team lead that she was away.
The Board of Review Decision
The Board of Review (Board) disagreed with the ALJ’s decision and reversed. They stated:
The decision made by the ALJ was not supported by the evidence presented during the hearing.
The Board determined that the claimant violated the employer’s known policies when she was away from her job assignment for an extended time.
The claimant’s explanation for her absence was not credible.
Cases involving only one first-hand witness for the employer can be difficult. In this case, the claimant denied the employer’s allegations. The ALJ had to decide between the claimant’s testimony and that of the employer’s. In the case of a discharge, it is the employer who bears the burden of proof and overcoming the claimant’s opposing testimony. When at all possible, the employer should present at least two first-hand eye witnesses.
If the claimant had not been previously warned for similar behavior, the Board might have found the claimant eligible. In cases where a claimant is found to be away from the work station without authorization, and the claimant has a plausible explanation for the absence, the state can find that the claimant’s behavior amounts to an isolated incident of poor judgement. However, if the claimant has been previously warned for similar behavior, the state may decide that the separation is the fault of the claimant, which could lead to disqualification.
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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. Also, always consult with your own legal counsel and advisors concerning your specific situation.