Award of unemployment benefits to terminated Philadelphia Fresh Foods employee upheld by court

By Carrie Salls | Dec 1, 2017

HARRISBURG – Philadelphia Fresh Foods LLC’s petition for review of an Unemployment Compensation Board of Review order granting unemployment compensation benefits to a former company employee was unsuccessful, according to a Nov. 14 Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania opinion upholding the board’s decision.

According to the Commonwealth Court opinion, the board reversed a Dec. 30, 2016, referee ruling denying unemployment compensation benefits to Anthony Watson.

The Commonwealth Court said Watson applied for unemployment after he was fired by Philadelphia Fresh Foods for “willful misconduct.” The Lancaster UC Service Center denied Watson’s application. As a result, he appealed to a referee, who upheld the center’s decision following testimony by Watson and company representatives.

Specifically, the Commonwealth Court opinion said Watson was fired “for allegedly violating (Philadelphia Fresh Foods’) policy prohibiting workplace violence” after an individual protesting “the killing of a black female by a police officer” outside of the restaurant where Watson was working on Aug. 4, 2016, filed a complaint about an interaction with Watson.

Watson allegedly told the complaining protester “People like you are the reason your men are killing each other,” according to the Commonwealth Court opinion.

In its finding of facts, the board said “the employer maintains a policy, that the claimant should have been aware of, prohibiting workplace violence and defines it as such: (1) physical assault or threats of physical harm to oneself or others; (2) verbal abuse, including vulgar or obscene language, derogatory comments[,] verbal intimidation, excessive criticism, name calling or any threatening comments; (3) conduct that threatens, intimidates, or coerces another team member, a guest, or a member of the public at any time, including off-duty periods, will not be tolerated,” the Commonwealth Court opinion said.

Under the Philadelphia Fresh Foods policy, an employee may be fired or subject to other disciplinary action for violating these company rules.

However, the board sided with Watson, according to the opinion, stating that he “credibly” testified that he did not make the alleged statement to the protestor.

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