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Accused of on-the-job theft?


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8/4/2014
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Someday you might find yourself in a perilous position at work: quit or get fired.  Maybe you did something wrong, maybe you’re just suspected of having done something wrong.  Either way, you’ll probably lose your job.  So which do you choose?  Quit, right?

"Most people when accused of theft are embarrased and then get angry. But displaying anger is not going to clear your name. It may actually get you fired because when angry people do and say foolish things. So don't loose your cool. Stay calm and listen, say very little and think about what they are saying was stolen and when. Then think about who had access, opportunity and motive. Keep your cool." Attorney Lombardi.

If you want unemployment benefits, then "No" don't quit!  If you voluntarily quit your job in Iowa, you’ll be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  And yes, if you did something wrong and quit to avoid getting fired, that counts as a voluntary quit.  If you’re fired, you might be denied unemployment benefits anyway—but that’s only if your employer can show that you were fired for misconduct.  Granted, there are a lot of ways your employer can try to do that.  But if you quit, that’s that for you.

Here’s a comparison of two recent unemployment appeals that look at employees who had the opportunity to get angry and quit, but who didn’t take it.  Calvin Trent and Miranda Linz (not their real names) worked two different jobs—food production and nursing, respectively.  Both were suspected of theft in connection with their jobs.

Ms. Linz was accused of taking a narcotic pill for personal use.  Her side of the story was that a patient, an elderly woman, had a prescription for the pill, a painkiller, and Ms. Linz had provided it to her when she was in pain.  Perhaps because of faulty memory, the patient reported that she was not given the pill.  Ms. Linz’s supervisor informed Ms. Linz that she was being placed on suspension pending an investigation.  Ms. Linz became upset, stated that she was stressed and unhappy in this job, and that she was going to look for work elsewhere.  When he supervisor asked her to write up a resignation, Ms. Linz told him that she wasn’t quitting.  After some back and forth, the supervisor told her to leave.  She attempted to come back after a few hours to finish some duties and pick up some paperwork but was turned away.

There’s not as much information available in Mr. Trent’s case.  Mr. Trent was accused of theft of product.  After an investigation, he was dismissed.  Mr. Trent filed a grievance, which resulted in an addition investigation.  This investigation revealed that the allegations against Mr. Trent were unfounded.  Mr. Trent was restored to his job after about a month and a half of unemployment.

Both Ms. Linz and Mr. Trent filed for unemployment insurance benefits, and both were initially found ineligible.  Each appealed their case to an Administrative Law Judge.  

Judge Lynette Donner took Ms. Linz’s case.  Judge Donner looked at the bare facts of the case and determined that there was nothing to show that Ms. Linz meant to quit her job, or that she even quit at all.  Because there was no voluntary quit, the Judge opted to treat the case as a discharge case—i.e., determining whether Ms. Linz was fired for misconduct.  But Ms. Linz’s employer had only argued the voluntary discharge angle.  Whether or not there was misconduct was question of he-said, she-said.  Because the supervisor himself wasn’t there to testify, Judge Donner had to side with Ms. Linz, the only other party present to the exchange ending Ms. Linz’s employment.  Judge Donner found Ms. Linz eligible for benefits.

Mr. Trent’s appeal was decided by Judge Blair Bennett.  The issue of voluntary quit didn’t come up in Mr. Trent’s case; instead, his employer argued only that Mr. Trent had been fired for misconduct.  Because Mr. Trent had been cleared of all allegations by the time of the appeal, there was no foundation for a finding of misconduct.  Mr. Trent was found eligible for benefits.

Mr. Trent and Ms. Linz had two different approaches to being accused of theft on the job.  Mr. Trent seems to have taken the accusation relatively calmly, and followed established procedures to go about getting his job back.  He had the foresight to file an appeal to the initial unemployment finding, maybe because he knew there was a possibility that the investigation initiated by his grievance might absolve him of any misconduct.  Ms. Linz, too, kept her head when she was accused of theft.  Sure, she engaged in a bit of an altercation, but she was careful to maintain that she was not quitting her job.  She also took some steps to keep her job.

If either Mr. Trent or Ms. Linz had said “I quit”, things would be different.  It might feel satisfying to say it at the time, but when it comes to unemployment benefits, quitting your job doesn’t pay.  I like to say to my clients, "Help me to help you."  If we can help you, call the Lombardi Law Firm to speak with attorneys Steve Lombardi and Katrina Schaefer. We can be reached at 515-222-1110 or by emailing us at [email protected] and [email protected] We look forward to your call.



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