Most Missouri employers are acutely aware of their obligation under the Missouri Employment Security Law (the “Law”) to remit unemployment taxes to the Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations (the “Department). Those unemployment taxes are used to by the Department to pay unemployment benefits to terminated employees. The Department maintains an “experience account” for each employer and has the right to charge an employer’s experience account for benefit claims filed by any employer’s former employee.
Under some circumstances, however, an employer’s experience account is not charged for unemployment benefit claims. One such circumstance occurs when the employee is disqualified from benefits as a result of being terminated for misconduct. For three consecutive years, the Missouri General Assembly proposed changes to the Law which would expand the definition of “misconduct,” and following last year’s legislative session, the Law was finally revised, resulting in significant changes that all employers should be aware of.
The most important change to the Law is the expansion of the scope of conduct that may constitute “misconduct.” Under the Law as amended, the definition of misconduct was expanded to include certain conduct or failure to act “regardless of whether such conduct or failure to act occurs at the workplace or during work hours.” (RSMO 288.030). This new definition, read literally, means that an employer could terminated an employee for conduct that occurred outside the workplace provided that the conduct is related to scope of employment. The Law goes further to provide a detailed list of activities that constitute misconduct, including excessive absences or violation of an employer’s rules or policy handbook. Where the misconduct claimed results from the employee’s violation of an employer’s rule or handbook, the employee will still be entitled to benefits if he or she show either (1) that it did not know and could not reasonably know of the policy or (2) that the policy is not regularly enforced. Otherwise, the employee may be disqualified from unemployment benefits.
We can’t know the full effect of the changes to the Law yet. However, employers may decide that now is a good time to review the company’s employment handbook to determine if rules or policies should be amended or added to address the changes to the laws. Additionally, employers should remember that if the company wants to claim misconduct by an employee based on violation of the employer’s rules and policies, the employer should have a clear record that the policy or handbook was distributed to its employees and that its policies are regularly enforced.
The employment lawyers of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal can provide additional information on these changes and on other issues of importance to employers.