Appeals court: Companies must uniformly enforce policies when firing workers - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Appeals court: Companies must uniformly enforce policies when firing workers

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Posted: Friday, June 24, 2011 11:00 am

Companies that don’t uniformly enforce certain policies can lose the ability to claim they were justified in firing a worker for violating one of them, the Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled.

The judges reinstated the unemployment insurance benefits for Charles Jordan Jr. They said the evidence presented indicated that his employer could not prove that everyone who violated a specific policy ended up being fired.

Court records show that Jordan was employed as an activity director at Avalon health and Rehabilitation center, a skilled nursing facility in Tucson, for about 17 months.

He was discharged because he overhead a patient tell another patient and family members that she had been beaten up by aides but did not immediately report the incident, something required by company policy. Instead, Jordan told the patient to report the incident to the administrator, which she did the following day.

Judge Jon Thompson, writing for the unanimous court, said there were no previous incidents where Jordan was alleged to have violated reporting policies.

His request for unemployment benefits was denied based on a finding he had been discharged for work-related misconduct.

At an appeal hearing, Jordan testified that when the patient made the allegation, her family members told him that the incident had not occurred and that they had been with her when the abuse allegedly happened.

He also said that Avalon had not enforced the policy on another occasion in 2007 when a patient had actually been abused. In that instance, he said, the nursing home terminated the abuser but not a certified nursing assistant and a nurse who were aware of the incident but failed to report it.

The nursing home administrator, however, testified that incident also was unsubstantiated.

Thompson said that under Arizona law, the employer has the burden of providing that a worker was discharged for a reason that disqualifies the person from jobless benefits.

One of those reasons is if the discharged was due to “willful or negligent misconduct connected with the employment.” And Thompson said that can include failure to abide by the rules.

But the judge pointed out that requires that the worker knew or should have known of the rule “and that the rule is reasonable and uniformly enforced.”

In this case, Thompson wrote, an appellate tribunal which concluded that Jordan was entitled to benefits had “sufficient evidence” to support a finding that Avalon had failed to meet its burden, including that the reporting policy was uniformly enforced.

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