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Ryan M. Adams v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review

October 22, 2012

RYAN M. ADAMS, PETITIONER
v.
UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BOARD OF REVIEW, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rochelle S. Friedman, Senior Judge

Submitted: August 17, 2012

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE FRIEDMAN

Ryan M. Adams (Claimant) petitions for review of the January 25, 2012, order of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR), which affirmed the decision of a referee to deny Claimant unemployment compensation benefits pursuant to section 402(e) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law).*fn1

We reverse.

The UCBR found as follows.*fn2 Claimant was employed by Adelphoi Education (Employer) from September 28, 2005, through August 19, 2011. (Findings of Fact, No. 1.) Employer has a code of conduct requiring that employees "must notify employer of any arrest or convictions while employed." (Findings of Fact, No. 3.) Claimant was aware or should have been aware of Employer's policy. (Findings of Fact, No. 4.)

On or about August 15, 2011, Claimant was "arrested" by the Penn Township Police Department as a result of a complaint filed on July 15, 2011. (Findings of Fact, No. 5.) Claimant was not forcibly handcuffed or physically taken into custody. (Findings of Fact, No. 6.) Claimant was required to appear before a magistrate, was fingerprinted, and agreed to the terms of an Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) program available to first-time offenders. (Findings of Fact, No. 7.)

Claimant did not inform Employer of his arrest. (Findings of Fact, No. 8.) Employer became aware of the arrest through a third party on August 18, 2011. (Findings of Fact, No. 9.) On August 22, 2011, Employer confronted Claimant with the criminal docket from his arrest. (Findings of Fact, No. 10.) Employer immediately suspended Claimant on August 22, 2011, pending resolution of the legal issues. (Findings of Fact, No. 11.) Claimant asserted that he was not "arrested" and, therefore, did not violate Employer's policy. (Findings of Fact, No. 12.)

The UCBR determined that Employer may use its own interpretation of its policies when rendering discipline. (UCBR's Decision, 1/25/12, at 1.) The UCBR credited Employer's testimony that appearing before a magistrate, being fingerprinted, receiving criminal charges, and participating in the legal system to resolve those charges are synonymous with an "arrest." (Id.) The UCBR noted that Claimant admitted to each of these events. (Id.) The UCBR concluded that Employer met its burden of proving a violation of its work rule. (Id.) By decision dated January 25, 2012, the UCBR affirmed the referee's decision denying benefits for willful misconduct pursuant to section 402(e) of the Law. (Id.) Claimant now petitions this court for review.*fn3

Claimant argues that the UCBR committed an error of law in determining that Claimant was guilty of willful misconduct for failing to report an arrest to Employer in violation of Employer's work rule. We agree.

Willful misconduct has been defined as: (1) a wanton and willful disregard of the employer's interests; (2) a deliberate violation of the employer's rules; (3) a disregard of the standards of behavior that an employer rightfully can expect from its employees; or (4) negligence that manifests culpability, wrongful intent, or evil design, or an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or the employee's duties and obligations. Oliver v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 5 A.3d 432, 438 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010) (en banc).

The employer has the burden of proving that it discharged an employee for willful misconduct. Id.

When an employee is discharged for violating a work rule, the employer must prove the existence of the work rule, the reasonableness of the rule, the claimant's awareness of the rule, and the fact of its violation. Chapman v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 20 A.3d 603, 607-608 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011). The burden then shifts to the employee to prove that he or she had good cause for violating the rule. Id. at 607. An employee establishes good cause by showing that his or her conduct was justified or reasonable under the circumstances. Id.

Here, the UCBR found that Employer had a reasonable rule requiring employees to report any arrests or convictions to Employer. In support thereof, Employer offered Chapter X of its Code of Conduct (Code), which contains a list of "actions or inactions" that "may result in corrective action including . . . discharge." (Employer's Ex. No. 1; N.T., 10/28/11, at 6.) Section 1.S of the Code specifically ...


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