New legislation to redefine grounds for unemployment benefits

The bill would redefine "misconduct" in the workplace.

New legislation, which would redefine the grounds of disqualifying unemployment benefits concerning issues of misconduct and good cause, has been proposed in the Missouri Senate.

Senate Bill 28, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, modifies the standard of knowingly disregarding an employer’s expected guidelines. According to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce website, the issues of unemployment benefits were recently evaluated after employers reached out to the Missouri chamber. The employers were bothered by some of the decisions the commission and the courts passed.

Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the chamber fully supports the legislation.

“Missouri employers solely fund our (unemployment insurance) system,” King said. “It is a slap in the face when they have to turn around and pay out benefits in cases where an employee is clearly breaking company policy and, in some cases, breaking the law.”

After conducting an investigation, Kraus and his committee uncovered instances in which fired employees challenged former employers in court for unemployment benefits. Because of precedent, the courts tend to side with the former employee.

Kraus said with the proposed act, the court would begin to deny more of these claims based on the intent of the legislation.

“I know a business owner in Lee’s Summit who works on unemployment insurance,” he said. “He informed me of many egregious cases where people are receiving benefits after being discharged. For example, an individual was caught stealing on camera and still received unemployment benefits.”

King said the bill states the definition of misconduct is too broad, and the burden of proof an employer has to prove is too high.

Currently, misconduct is defined by the bill as the deliberate or willful disregard of an employer’s interest and the disregard of the standards of behavior set by the employer that the employee has the right to respect. Any blatant disregard for the duties and obligations outlined by the employer also qualifies as misconduct.

Kraus said the goal of the bill is to deny benefits for those who were fired for true misconduct.

“We changed the definition of misconduct,” Kraus said. “Now the referees within the court can’t cite the old cases. They now have to look at new statutes for misconduct.”

With the proposed legislation, any violation of the employer’s rule is misconduct unless the violator can clearly demonstrate that he or she had no knowledge of the requirement.

SB28 would outline misconduct to include chronic absences, absences without notifying the employer, tardiness, unapproved absences without written warning and any violation of the state standard.

But with the current law, employees who leave work without good cause do not receive benefits. SB28 also outlines good cause as a reasonable reason an employee must cease work due to illness or disability.

King said SB28 addresses the integrity of the unemployment insurance program.

“Liberal interpretation of the definition of misconduct will continue to allow cases like these to erode the system without this legislation,” King said. “This raises the costs on all employers who fund the system. We need to protect the system for the purpose it was intended.”

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