Bill to deny some workers unemployment returns after veto

By Ron Feemster
— February 24, 2014

Ron Feemster, WyoFile reporter
Ron Feemster, WyoFile reporter

A bill passed the House Labor Health committee today that would disqualify employees from collecting unemployment compensation if they are terminated for “employee misconduct.”

Senate File 76, sponsored by the Joint Labor Health and Social Services committee, defines misconduct as “intentional disregard of the employer’s interests or the commonly accepted duties, obligations and responsibilities of an employee.” The bill passed third reading in the Senate 27-3.

But the bill specifies other possible reasons for termination that do not constitute misconduct. These include “ordinary negligence in isolated instances, good faith errors in judgment or discretion, and inefficiency or failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity.”

A similar bill was passed by both houses in 2013 but was vetoed by Gov. Matt Mead after the Legislature removed a clause that said negligence was not misconduct under the law.

Language in this year’s bill may sharpen current practice for adjudicating employee misconduct. Wyoming Supreme Court decisions hold that an employee responsible for violating a policy only if he or she knows in advance what the policy is, according to Joan Evans, director of the Department of Workforce Services.

Although this notion of misconduct is not now fixed in the statute, it is followed in practice, according to Evans.

“As part of the process of investigating an unemployment claim, the policy is investigated,” Evans said. “The policy has to be introduced. It’s part of the fact-finding of the claim. That’s part of the process now. What is the policy? When did the employee learn about the policy?”

Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, suggested an amendment to read, “The employer policies and rules must be spelled out clearly and communicated effectively to employees and must be enforced uniformly.”

“Employers should not be allowed to enforce their policies selectively to deny workers unemployment compensation,” Neal said.

Rep. Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne) proposed a less specific amendment. “Employer policy must be communicated to the employee,” Throne’s amendment read. It passed 5-4 on a show of hands.

Representatives from the state Association of Municipal Employers and the Wyoming County Commissioners Association spoke in favor of the bill.

The bill passed 7-2. Rep. Lee Filer (D-Cheyenne) and Throne cast the “no” votes.

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