Review Granted in Case Involving Employee’s Refusal to Sign Disciplinary Notice

  27 July 2016

Unemployment Insurance Code section 1256 (section 1256) disqualifies an employee from receiving unemployment compensation benefits if he or she has been discharged for misconduct.

 

Misconduct within the meaning of section 1256 involves a willful or wanton disregard of an employer’s interests or such carelessness or negligence as to manifest equal culpability. It does not include, among other things, good faith errors in judgment. In a recent case involving misconduct, Craig Medeiros worked for Paratransit, Inc., as a driver.  As a condition of his employment, Medeiros was required to join a union. The union was party to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the company that included the following provision: “All disciplinary notices must be signed by a Vehicle Operator when presented to him or her provided that the notice states that by signing, the Vehicle Operator is only acknowledging receipt of said notice and is not admitting to any fault or to the truth of any statement in the notice.” 

In February 2008, a passenger filed a complaint against Medeiros. The company’s human resources manager investigated the matter and concluded the alleged misconduct had occurred. Medeiros was called into a meeting with the company’s human resources manager and its director of administrative services and told he was being disciplined for the incident. A disciplinary memorandum had been prepared, which Medeiros was asked to sign. He was also advised that if he did not sign the memorandum, this would be treated as insubordination and his employment would be terminated. Medeiros refused to sign the document arguing that if he signed it, he would be admitting the truth of what it stated. Although the HR representatives assured Medeiros that his signature would only signify receipt of the document, he still refused to sign and was subsequently terminated. Medeiros filed for unemployment insurance benefits but the Employment Development Department denied his claim as did the Administrative Law Judge. On appeal, the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (Board) determined that Medeiros’ refusal to sign the memorandum was, at most, a good faith error in judgment that did not disqualify him from receiving unemployment benefits. The trial court disagreed and directed the Board to set aside its decision and to enter a new one finding Medeiros disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  

On appeal from the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeal, 3rd District affirmed, holding that Medeiros was “directed to sign the memo and was told he would be subject to termination if he failed to do so. If these facts were enough to make a refusal to obey an employer’s directive a good faith error in judgment, no employee would ever have to obey an employer’s directive.” One important aspect of this case, which is important for employers to consider, is that the CBA provided written notice to employees that all disciplinary notices must be signed and that in doing so the employee did not admit fault. This created a basis for termination based on misconduct if the employee subsequently did not sign a disciplinary notice. Note: On September 26, 2012, the California Supreme Court granted review of this case; therefore, it is not a citeable decision until further word from the Court. Read More.

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