Not long ago we heard about the case of a truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel and got into an accident.  He was fired for it.  When the fellow applied for unemployment benefits, his boss said that the accident was misconduct and that he therefore should be ineligible for unemployment benefits.  The Administrative Law Judge disagreed but found the driver ineligible for unemployment benefits on other grounds.

Now let’s look at Chad Halloran (not his real name).  He is also an unemployed truck driver.  He’s also unemployed because he was fired.  He was also fired because he got into an accident.  He also applied for unemployment benefits.  And his employer also claims that his getting into an accident was misconduct.  But in this case, the Administrative Law Judge, Lynette a. Donner, agreed with the employer and denied unemployment benefits on that basis.  What made the difference?

The first thing to get out of the way is that negligence or carelessness isn’t normally considered misconduct in the unemployment context—meaning, if you make one mistake on the job and you’re fired for it, it’s not bad enough for you to be denied unemployment benefits.  Recurring acts of negligence—making repeated careless mistakes—can be misconduct, but that wasn’t an issue in Chad’s case.  He had never gotten into trouble on the job.  But also, one single act of negligence that indicates a deliberate disregard of the employer’s interests can be enough to constitute misconduct, and deny unemployment benefits on that basis.

So let’s go back to that first case, the fellow who fell asleep at the wheel.  To recap, that accident occurred because he fell asleep at the wheel.  People don’t “deliberately” fall asleep at the wheel, and so the Administrative Law Judge didn’t find that the driver “deliberately disregarded the employer’s interests” in doing so.

Now let’s go back to Chad Halloran’s accident.  He had cruise control set at 65 miles per hour.  He entered a construction zone with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour.  He went off the highway and rolled the vehicle, causing serious damage.  In the words of the Judge,

“While the claimant did not have a record of prior violations or prior warnings, the gravity of the incident along with the claimant’s intentional speeding through the construction zone as shown by the fact that he had the cruise control set shows a willful or wanton disregard of the standard of behavior the employer has the right to expect from an employee, as well as an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests and of the employee's duties and obligations to the employer. The employer discharged the claimant for reasons amounting to work-connected misconduct.”

Lesson learned: some mistakes are worse than others—in particular, you’re more likely to be held responsible for the mistakes you make when you’re awake than the ones you make when you’re asleep.  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.

Attorney's Note: We miss Bridget; she returned to lawschool, graduated and is now studying for the Iowa bar exam. 

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