Court of Appeals Issues Pro-Worker Decision Interpreting Anti-Worker Unemployment Law Amendment
On Thursday April 14, a Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a pro-worker decision, the first of its kind interpreting a pro-employer 2013 amendment to Wisconsin’s unemployment law that has been used by the Wisconsin Labor Industrial Review Commission (LIRC) to deny thousands of Wisconsinites the protection that the unemployment system originally intended.
Under the amendment, employees terminated for “substantial fault” are ineligible for unemployment. Prior to the amendment, a terminated employee was ineligible for unemployment if the termination was for misconduct, such as theft, fighting on the job. While the amendment did not disqualify employees terminated for inadvertent errors or minor rules infractions without progressive discipline, the Labor Industrial Review Commission and its judges have used the “substantial fault” standard inconsistently and frequently to the advantage of employers. In the Operton v. LIRC decision, the Court of Appeals held that the employee, a cashier at Walgreens, could not be denied unemployment compensation under the substantial fault standard where he was described as a conscientious employee and made a handful of small errors over the course of processing 80,000 transaction. The Court was critical of LIRC and its interpretation of the “substantial fault” standard.
The decision is good news for workers since it establishes some limitations on “substantial fault.” Because temporary disability workers comp payments could also be denied to temporarily disabled employees suspended or terminated for “substantial fault,” the decision also stands to provides some additional income protection to employees under Wisconsin’s workers compensation law.
It is not yet known whether LIRC will appeal the Operton decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.