People's Law Guide
UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION: A DENIAL OF BENEFITS CAN BE OVERTURNED
Sharole Shacklett, a cashier at Eckerd Drugs, was fired when an undercover theft prevention worker accused her of failing to "ring up" the sale of a pack of cigarettes.
When Shacklett filed for unemployment compensation, store managers challenged her claim, insisting that the cashier violated an important store policy which required the "ringing up" of every sale.
After an Unemployment Compensation Claims hearing officer withheld benefits, a court judge overruled that decision and ordered her former employer to pay unemployment compensation benefits. The cashier, the judge determined, was accused of making a one-time mistake. That error was not serious enough to be considered willful misconduct or a careless disregard of her employer's interests. Had Shacklett been accused of a more serious error, or a pattern of mistakes, only then could benefits have been denied, the ruling stated.
Rules & Exceptions Matter
If you're surprised by this decision, you may not be aware how official rules (and exceptions to these rules) can work to your advantage when seeking unemployment compensation benefits.
After quitting his job as a locker room attendant at Pelican Bay, a private golf and tennis club, Paul Platt successfully challenged a decision denying him unemployment compensation. Platt charged the club was short staffed, forcing him to work 70 to 80 hours weekly. Promises to add additional staff to ease the workload went unfulfilled and Platt was told he couldn't take any days off.
While quitting work typically disqualifies one's rights to unemployment compensation, working conditions at Platt's job site were found harsh enough to "cause a reasonable worker to quit." An "intolerable condition of employment" can give workers "good cause" to quit their jobs - while remaining eligible to receive unemployment compensation, a judge ruled.
Rulings Favoring Workers
Just five feet tall and weighing just 116 pounds, Ofelia Gottardi complained that lifting heavy boxes at her warehouse job led to severe back pain. When returning from a two day recuperation period, Gottardi asked that she receive relief or be transferred to less physical work. She quit when told that no other duties were available.
Gottardi challenged an initial denial of benefits. When ordering that payments be granted, a judge explained that when a worker is incapable of meeting job requirements, there's no legal difference between being fired or quitting.
Even persons who thought they were independent contractors have received unemployment compensation. RAFS, Services, Inc., located in North Florida, provided work equipment and supplies, supervised worker duties, paid hourly wages and required workers to report to a specific worksite. While the workers were permitted to select their shifts and signed contracts stating they considered themselves to be independent contractors, the work relationship was determined to more closely resemble that of employer and employee. All were awarded unemployment benefits after being terminated.
Mini-trials Decide Who Wins
When employers challenge claims for unemployment compensation, the Florida Bureau of Labor holds mini-trials, called appeals hearings, where employers and workers answer a series of questions posed by hearing officers. Representation by an attorney is permitted. Review of the case file a week or more prior to the hearing enables attorneys to better determine if witnesses should be subpoenaed, how employer allegations can be challenged and how the claimant's case can be strengthened.
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