Pa. Commonwealth Court panel reverses UCBR decision denying unemployment compensation to worker

By Jon Campisi | Oct 23, 2012

A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel has reversed a decision by the state’s

Unemployment Compensation Board of Review to deny unemployment benefits to a man who had been let go from his job for allegedly not revealing a supposed arrest on his record.

Ryan M. Adams was terminated from his job with Adelphoi Education in late August 2011 for not making his employer aware that he had been “arrested” by members of the Penn Township Police Department in Chester County days earlier.

The appellate decision does not elaborate on the reason behind the arrest.

Adams had not been forcibly handcuffed or physically taken into custody by police officers on Aug. 15, 2011, although he was required to appear before a magistrate judge, get fingerprinted and agree to the terms of an Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) program available to first-time offenders.

Adams did not inform his employer of the incident, with the employer learning about the matter through a third party on Aug. 18, 2011, the record shows.

The company suspended Adams on Aug. 22, 2011, and it subsequently terminated Adams for violating company policy in not reporting an arrest.

Adams contended that he violated no policies because he was technically never “arrested.”

The Unemployment Compensation Board of Review determined that an employer may use its own interpretation of its policies when rendering discipline.

Adams, however, argued that the UCBR committed an error of law in determining that Adams was guilty of willful misconduct for failing to report an arrest to his employer.

The three-judge appellate court panel agreed with Adams, writing that, as per case law, a company has the burden of proving that it discharged an employee for willful misconduct, which did not appear to take place in this matter.

“Claimant argues that he was not ‘arrested’ as that term is commonly understood and, therefore was under no obligation to notify Employer of the criminal charges against him,” the court opinion states.

The ruling states that had Adams failed to appear before the magistrate or follow the magistrate’s directives, he could have been arrested, and that by following the magistrate’s orders Adams, in fact, avoided arrest.

“Simply stated, [Adams] was never held in custody or detained by law enforcement,” the appellate ruling states. “The possibility or threat of arrest is not the equivalent of an arrest, nor is the act of appearing before a magistrate and being fingerprinted.”

The ruling says that the employer’s code specifically requires a worker to notify his or her employer of any “arrests or convictions,” not charges.

“Because Claimant was neither arrested nor convicted, Claimant was under no duty to report the charges under Employer’s Code,” the opinion reads. “Therefore, Employer failed to prove that Claimant’s conduct constituted a deliberate violation of Employer’s work rule rendering him ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits.”

Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini and Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt joined Senior Judge Rochelle S. Friedman, who wrote the opinion, in the decision.

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