Harold I. Goodman, Andrew S. Price, Bruce E. Endy, Community Legal Services, Inc., Philadelphia, for appellants.
Sydney Reuben, Asst. Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for appellee, U.C.B. of R.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Pomeroy, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Jones, C. J., joined.
Appellants, Gary Woodson, Lewis Woodson, Ronald Woodson and Lester Woodson are four brothers who had been employed by Asplundh Tree Expert Company, Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. The brothers had been employed as groundmen, climbers, and bucket operators for periods ranging from one and one-half to three years. In October of 1970 all of the brothers were discharged, allegedly for excessive absenteeism and tardiness. Individually,
the Woodsons filed for unemployment compensation benefits. On January 12, 1971, the Bureau of Unemployment Security notified appellants that they were ineligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits because, according to the Bureau, they had been discharged by the employer for "willful misconduct," and were therefore ineligible for compensation because of Section 402(e) of the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law. Act of Dec. 5, 1936, Second Ex.Sess., P.L. (1937) 2897, art. IV, § 402, as amended, 43 P.S. § 802(e).
The Woodsons filed timely appeals of the Bureau's adverse determinations. A referee, and subsequently the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, affirmed the Bureau's denial of benefits. An appeal to the Commonwealth Court followed. It resulted in an affirmance of the denial of benefits. We then granted allocatur.
The appellants contend that their absenteeism and tardiness did not constitute "willful misconduct" because it did not violate any standard of conduct which the employer had a right to expect of its employees. They contend that they were not discharged for violating their employer's standard of conduct, but rather because they were black. We agree, and order the payment of unemployment compensation benefits to the appellants.
The term "willful misconduct" is not defined in the Unemployment Compensation Act. Case law, however, has defined willful misconduct as conduct which violates standards of conduct an employer has a right to expect of its employees. See Woodson v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 7 Pa. Commw. 526, 300 A.2d 299 (1973). A determination of whether an employee has engaged in willful misconduct can therefore only be made by considering what standard of conduct an employer reasonably requires. Standards expected by one employer may of course not be the standards of another employer. Willful misconduct cannot therefore be
considered in a vacuum. It must be considered in relation to the particular employees and to the reasonable ...