Off-Site Employee Misconduct: Court Rules in Favor of Employer In Recent Case

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently ruled that a woman who made a violent threat toward a co-worker on Facebook is ineligible for unemployment benefits.  The woman claimed her supervisor placed his hands on her during a discussion about not wearing safety googles.  After the incident, the woman posted on the comment section on Facebook that “I would [have] sliced his throat open if it didn’t happen at work.  And had no remorse.”  After seeing the post, the company fired the woman.

The woman then sought unemployment benefits, but was denied by the unemployment board referee, who found that the Facebook post constituted “willful misconduct.”  On appeal, the Commonwealth Court agreed with the referee that the comment constituted willful misconduct because it would be disruptive and cause discord amongst knowing individuals at the workplace.  The Court opined that the fact that the threat was not made at work makes no difference.  The Court concluded that the woman’s conduct was sufficiently connected to her work to constitute willful misconduct. 

Although the nature and severity of the threat in this instance clearly supported employee discipline, companies must be careful when terminating employees for actions taken outside of work.  If the conduct is not sufficiently connected to the workplace, the company will likely be responsible for unemployment benefits to the former employee, at a minimum.  The former employee could also leverage the lack of connection to the workplace to support a discrimination claim against the company.  If you need advice regarding the discipline of an employee for conduct that occurred away from the workplace, contact the Business Team at Maiello Brungo & Maiello, LLP.