On Feb. 11, 2014, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a denial of unemployment benefits with respect to an employee who violated her employer’s no-fault attendance policy in large part because of ongoing car troubles. Under the employer’s attendance policy, employees were subject to discharge once they accrued 12 points within a 12-month period.
In this case, the employee was late or absent from work 26 times from Nov. 15, 2011, through Nov. 7, 2012. While the majority of her attendance problems were the result of car trouble, the employee was ultimately discharged on Nov. 9, 2012, for exceeding the number of times she was allowed to be absent or tardy under the attendance policy.
The employee thereafter filed a claim for unemployment benefits, and a deputy with the Division of Employment Security found that she was not disqualified from unemployment benefits because the discharge was not for misconduct connected with work. The deputy found that the employee did not willfully violate the attendance policy. On appeal, the Appeals Tribunal reversed the deputy’s decision on the basis that the employee’s behavior was in willful disregard of the employer’s attendance policy.
The employee then appealed the decision of the Appeals Tribunal to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, which affirmed and adopted the decision of the Appeals Tribunal. The employee again appealed this decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals.
The Missouri appellate court ultimately upheld the decision of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission. In its opinion, the court noted that when an employer has a no-fault attendance policy and discharges an employee for its violation, the employer is relieved of its usual burden of proving misconduct relating to the employee’s violation of the employer’s attendance policy. Rather, under Section 288.050.3, RSMo., the burden is on the employee to establish non-fault with regard to her absences.
The court also cited Missouri caselaw which holds that “transportation is generally considered a problem of the employee. It is the employee’s responsibility in order to make himself or herself attached to the labor market.” That being said, “an employee’s failure to report in as scheduled due to transportation problems does not necessarily or automatically in the abstract mean the employee is guilty of misconduct. For cases in which the employee is under a reasonable attendance policy and purports to be trying to keep the job, a ‘misconduct’ analysis based on recurring negligence amounting to culpability would seem to make … sense. The issue would be whether the degree of fault amounts to sufficient culpability to warrant a denial of benefits.”
In this case, the court noted that the employee did not convince the hearing officer that she was the victim of circumstances beyond her control. Importantly, the employee was late or absent six times even after warnings. According to the court, the employee’s repeated car trouble was enough to constitute culpability warranting a denial of benefits: “[Her] repeated failure to rectify the transportation problem … or to provide any explanation as to how doing so was beyond her control can fairly be considered … to be a willful abdication of her responsibility to get to work in a timely fashion, indicating a disregard for her employer’s attendance policy.”
A complete copy of the decision in this case can be found here.