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What is "Willful Misconduct" Under Pennsylvania Unemployment Law?

Another commonly asked question asked among Pennsylvania employees is whether one is still eligible for unemployment benefits after he or she was discharged from employment. In many cases, the answer is yes; however, if the employer can prove that he or she was discharged due to reasons that are considered to be “willful misconduct” associated with that employee’s performance or behavior, then that employee is not eligible to receive benefits.

"Willful misconduct" is considered an act of wanton or willful disregard of the employer's interests, the deliberate violation of rules, the disregard of standards of behavior that an employer can rightfully expect from an employee, or negligence that manifests culpability, wrongful intent, evil design, or intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or of the employee's duties and obligations.

In other words, if an employee has acted egregiously in any of the above categories, there likely will not be unemployment benefits available to that individual post-termination. Pennsylvania courts have issued counsel on what types of patterns and behaviors tend to fall under the category of “willful misconduct.” Some common examples of scenarios that typically arise that may rise to this level involve employees repeating patterns of behavior listed below:

Absenteeism/Tardiness: When an employee is consistently late or absent to work, the employer may be able to prove willful misconduct.

Rule Violation: It is paramount to one’s employment to make sure he or she is following the rules of the company diligently; even one seemingly trivial violation can result in termination without benefits.

Attitude Toward Employer or Disruptive Influence: Keeping a healthy attitude at work towards both one’s supervisor and colleagues, as well as displaying a pattern of professional behavior, can ensure that if terminated, one will still be able to receive unemployment benefits.

Damage to Equipment or Property: It probably goes without saying, but being respectful to one’s surroundings can make or break one’s situation if terminated.

Unsatisfactory Work Performance: If one is doing the best that he or she can, then this is not considered to be “willful misconduct.” However, if the work performance is intentionally mediocre, this rises to the level of willful misconduct, as it serves as a blatant disregard to the employer’s instructions.

Drug and Alcohol Testing: As long as the test is not violating an existing labor agreement, one is at risk for ineligibility of unemployment benefits if he or she fails a drug or alcohol screening.

If you or someone you know has found themselves in a situation described above, or if you are simply unsure about your status in regards to unemployment benefits, please call RMN for a free consult.

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