October 2017 Briefly: An Unemployment Case Analysis

October 18, 2017 Peg Elofson

October 2017 briefly

Background

The claimant was discharged for inappropriate behavior. The claimant was allowed benefits upon a finding that he was discharged, but not for misconduct connected with the work. The employer appealed, and a hearing was scheduled before an administrative law judge.

At The Hearing

The Employer’s Evidence: The employer’s witness testified that he received an anonymous note regarding the claimant’s behavior as a supervisor. The note indicated that the claimant had directed profanity and harassing language toward a female supervisor. The witness interviewed the claimant and six of his employees. The witness testified that the claimant’s employees who were interviewed had seen and heard about the claimant’s inappropriate behavior toward the female supervisor as described in the note. The employees also reported that the claimant had directed profanity and disrespectful language toward his employees. The employer discharged the claimant for violating its zero-tolerance conduct policies, which the claimant had received at hire.
The Claimant’s Evidence: The claimant denied the incidents as reported by the employer. The claimant testified that he had never received any warnings regarding his behavior, and had never had any problems working with his fellow supervisor or his employees.

The Hearing Decision

The administrative law judge (ALJ) found that the claimant was discharged for misconduct connected with the work, and he was disqualified from benefits. The ALJ found that despite the fact that the claimant denied the allegations, the employer had presented sufficient evidence to show the claimant had violated the employer’s policy. The claimant’s actions were so severe that they rose to the level of misconduct connected with the work. The claimant appealed, arguing that he had not behaved in the way the employer had testified to, and that he had never received any warnings regarding inappropriate behavior.

The Board of Review Decision

The Board of Review disagreed with the administrative law judge and reversed the decision. The Board found that the employer failed to prove that the claimant had behaved inappropriately. The employer’s testimony consisted entirely of second and third-hand testimony. While hearsay is admissible in administrative hearings, the state could not find the employer’s hearsay evidence as more credible than the claimant’s credible first-hand denials. The employer failed to prove that the claimant behaved inappropriately, and therefore failed to meet their burden of proving misconduct. The claimant was allowed benefits.

Takeaways

  1. While hearsay is admissible in unemployment hearings, it can outweighed by a credible first-hand denial. Hearsay is considered to be more unreliable than first-hand testimony because someone testifying under oath in the hearing can be questioned and his demeanor can be evaluated to determine his credibility. A hearsay witness is presenting information which was received from someone who is not appearing in the hearing to testify. The person who witnessed the events cannot be questioned and his credibility cannot be determined. In this case, the employer’s witness was the person who interviewed the employees who had observed the claimant behaving badly. None of the employees who witnessed the claimant’s conduct in person appeared to testify, so the claimant’s credible denial under oath outweighed the employer’s testimony.
  2. In a discharge case, the employer bears the burden of proving that the claimant was discharged for a reason which should disqualify him from the receipt of benefits. The ALJ is charged with deciding whether the facts of the case support a disqualification under state law. Once the ALJ determines the facts, she must then apply the law to the facts and issue a decision. In this case, the Board found that the employer’s hearsay evidence did not establish that the claimant had violated the employer’s policy. Since the employer did not prove that the claimant had violated its policies, the employer was unable to prove that the events that led to the claimant’s discharge should disqualify him from the receipt of benefits.

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