Mar 12, 2015

Sleeping on the job may not be misconduct for purposes of unemployment compensation

Generally, when an employee is terminated for “misconduct” in Illinois, the employee is not eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Yet, what does “misconduct” mean under the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act (“the Act”)? Most employers likely have a good sense of when an employee has engaged in misconduct in violation of a company policy.  Yet, when considering whether employee misconduct is really “misconduct” as defined under the Act, employers may be surprised to learn that their idea of misconduct may not be the same as that described in the Act.

On February 18, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court issued an unpublished decision in Universal Security Corp. v. Dept. of Emp. Security, holding that an employee, who was an unarmed night security guard at O’Hare International Airport, and who was terminated for company misconductwhen he fell asleep on the job, did not engage in “misconduct” as defined by the Act.  

The Court pointed out that, under the Act, a former employee may not receive unemployment benefits if his or her discharge was for misconduct connected to work when: (i) the employer has a reasonable work policy or rule that (ii) the employee deliberately and willfully violates, and (iii) the violation either harms the employer or was repeated by the employee despite a warning. 820 ILCS 405/602(A).  Applying this definition of misconduct, the Court found that the former employee had not previously fallen asleep while on duty, was asleep only for a short interval, and when awakened he did not try to fall back asleep.  The Court concluded that, under the circumstances, the employee did not intentionally or deliberately fall asleep at work.  As a result, the employee did not engage in misconduct as defined by the Act and was, therefore, not precluded from receiving unemployment benefits. 

Employers should be mindful of the Act’s definition when deciding whether to dispute a former employee’s claim for unemployment benefits. If there are any doubts about whether the former employee’s conduct rises to the level of misconduct under the Act, an employer should contact an employment attorney.

This Chuhak & Tecson, P.C. communication is intended only to provide information regarding developments in the law and information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute advice regarding legal problems and should not be relied upon as such.

Client Alert authored by: Ryan A. Haas