HR Management & Compliance

Showing Up Can Be More Than Half the Battle in Opposing Jobless Claims

Employers must be careful to preserve their rights and not cavalierly ignore the need to present their point of view. A recent case before the Arkansas Court of Appeals illustrates what can happen when an employer doesn’t bother to appear and present evidence opposing a claim for unemployment compensation.

Facts

Biotest employed Charles Schock as its company physician for approximately four years until he was discharged on October 14, 2020. He applied for unemployment-compensation benefits. The employer didn’t respond or participate in any of the proceedings.

On the unemployment claim form, Schock indicated he had been discharged because he was late in renewing his medical license. He checked the “yes” box indicating he had violated the employer’s policy regarding late renewals of medical licenses. He claimed, however, he wasn’t aware of the policy until he was verbally informed about it on the date he was discharged.

Based only on Schock’s form, the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS) determined he was disqualified from receiving jobless benefits because he was let go for work-related misconduct. It found he “was discharged from [his] job on 10-14-20 for the loss of [his] license, which was one of the requirements of the job. [His] willful actions resulted in this loss and were against the employer’s best interest.”

Schock timely appealed the decision to the Arkansas Appeal Tribunal and then to the Arkansas Board of Review, both of which upheld the finding that he was discharged for misconduct related to his failure to renew his license in a timely fashion. He then appealed to the court of appeals.

Standard on Appeal

First, remember that the employer bears the burden of showing an employee isn’t entitled to unemployment compensation because of misconduct. Moreover, the court noted misconduct requires an element of intent.

Mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure resulting from inability or incapacity, inadvertencies, ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good-faith errors in judgment or discretion do not constitute misconduct. Thus, Schock’s failure to renew had to be willful or intentional and not merely a one-time oversight or good-faith error.

Ex-Employee’s Undisputed Testimony Was Controlling

The court noted Schock provided undisputed testimony that, in the past, Biotest had always notified him when it was time to renew his license, and he always did so immediately. In 2020, however, the employer didn’t notify him of the need to renew until after the renewal date. He immediately renewed and was able to backdate the renewal so there was no harm to the company. Moreover, Biotest allowed him to continue working after the renewal for more than a month before terminating him.

Schock testified he wasn’t aware of any specific policy regarding license renewal, although he knew his medical license must be renewed annually. He stated he wasn’t written up for the incident but was simply told to renew the license and continued to work until Biotest terminated him on October 14. Critically, none of the testimony was contradicted by the employer since it didn’t participate in the proceedings.

The court of appeals specifically noted Biotest’s failure to participate and provide any evidence contradicting Schock’s testimony. As a direct result, based on his undisputed testimony, the court held he couldn’t be found to have intentionally failed to renew his medical license. His testimony demonstrated at most an isolated oversight that wouldn’t support the finding of willfulness or intent required to support a determination of misconduct. Accordingly, the court reversed the decision denying jobless benefits.

Bottom Line: Show up

You shouldn’t disregard the opportunity to participate and provide evidence in support of your positions. Had Biotest simply appeared and provided evidence contradicting Schock’s version of events (for example, if it had testified he was told of the need to renew his license annually when he was hired), then the court wouldn’t have overturned the decision. The board of review may select between conflicting testimony, and the court would have been required to uphold the board’s decision since it would be supported by the substantial proof supplied by the employer.

By not participating, Biotest provided no evidence for the board to accept over Schock’s version of events. As the saying goes, showing up is often half the battle, and, in this case, it was the whole battle.

Steve Jones is an attorney with Jack Nelson Jones, PLLC, in Little Rock, Arkansas. You can reach him at sjones@jacknelsonjones.com