Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Improper, immoral and insubordinate behavior “on-the-job” may constitute disqualifying misconduct for the purposes an individual’s eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits


Improper, immoral and insubordinate behavior “on-the-job” may constitute disqualifying misconduct for the purposes an individual’s eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits
Matter of Brown (Commissioner of Labor), 2015 NY Slip Op 08679, Appellate Division, Third Department

Appeal from a decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board, filed February 20, 2014, which ruled that claimant was eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits.

A teacher [Teacher] was placed on administrative leave in March 2012 and, shortly thereafter, was served with disciplinary charges pursuant to Education Law § 3020-a and proposed termination as the penalty to be imposed. The Hearing Officer found Teacher guilty of a number of the charge but rather than imposing dismissal as the penalty, directed that Teacher be suspended without pay for the second half of the school year.

Teacher then applied for, and obtained, unemployment insurance benefits during the suspension period without pay.

The appointing authority appealed and an Unemployment Insurance Administrative Law Judge [ALJ], acknowledging that the factual findings made by the Hearing Officer were entitled to collateral estoppel effect, nevertheless concluded that the conduct for which Teacher was disciplined, although "serious," did not rise to the level of disqualifying misconduct that would preclude him from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board [Board] affirmed the ALJ’s ruling and the appointing authority appealed.

With respect to the question of whether Teacher committed disqualifying misconduct, the Appellate Division noted that this "is a factual issue for the Board to resolve, and not every mistake, exercise of poor judgment or discharge for cause will rise to the level of [disqualifying] misconduct."

That said, the Appellate Division said that Teacher was found to have committed numerous instances of improper, immoral and insubordinate behavior, as well as conduct unbecoming a teacher including making inappropriate, demeaning and sarcastic comments to students, and sending  unprofessional emails to staff and parents. Characterized as a “notable example” of Teacher’s “cavalier treatment of students” the court described an incident in which Teacher improperly confiscated a student's cell phone and impersonated that student in order to learn what another student thought of his teaching abilities.

In addition, said the Appellate Division, Teacher disregarded his employer's policy regarding the use of multimedia tools in the classroom, despite having previously discussed that policy with administrators, and elected to show a violent movie to his students without obtaining parental consent to do so.

The Appellate Division, noting that an employee’s actions that were contrary to established policies and that have a detrimental effect upon the employer's interests have been found by courts to constitute disqualifying misconduct, said that this includes insubordinate conduct and unprofessional behavior that is detrimental to the interests of the employer.

As the Hearing Officer had found that Teacher’s repeatedly engaged in such types of behavior and, under the circumstances presented by this case, the Appellate Division ruled that the Board’s holding that Teacher’s behavior reflected nothing more than "poor judgment . . . is erroneous and is not supported by substantial evidence.”

The Appellate Division reversed the Board's determination and remanded the matter to it "for further" proceedings not inconsistent with this Court's decision."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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