12. Misconduct

Kowalski v. Henry Ford Macomb Hospital – 12.143

Kowalski v. Henry Ford Macomb Hospital
Digest No. 12.143

Section 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Kowalski v Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, unpublished opinion of the Macomb Circuit Court, issued January 27, 2012 (Docket No. 2011-2690-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Robert P. Kowalski
Employer: Henry Ford Macomb Hospital
Docket no.: 2011-2690-AE
Date of decision: January 27, 2012

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HOLDING: It is not a willful and wanton disregard of an employer’s interests to repeatedly access confidential patient information without explicit authorization when (1) the employer had a vague and discretionary policy regarding access to the confidential information, and (2) the employee, in the course of accessing information related to his job duties, is unable to avoid viewing confidential information unrelated to his assigned tasks.

FACTS: Claimant (appellant) worked as a regulatory documentation clerk at the Henry Ford Macomb Hospital.  As a documentation clerk, claimant used a computer system (the MIDAS system) to enter patient Medicaid information.  Although claimant had unrestricted access to the MIDAS computer suite and all its associated confidential patient information, the employer claimed that claimant was only authorized to view information on two particular MIDAS screens.  The employer maintained that claimant was only to access information that he had a “need to know.”  Claimant testified to his belief that he was authorized to view information in any part of the MIDAS system in order to complete job-related tasks.  After claimant submitted a report to his supervisor that contained patient information outside the scope of claimant’s supposed purview, a computer audit was initiated to investigate claimant’s MIDAS access history.  The audit revealed that claimant had accessed MIDAS screens with information that the employer considered unrelated to his job duties.  Claimant testified at a hearing before an ALJ that he had accessed the information on these screens in order to perform job-related tasks.  Although the ALJ found that “the employer failed to establish that [claimant] willfully, wantonly, and intentionally . . . disregard[ed] . . . standards of behavior which the employer had the right to expect,” the Board of Review reversed the decision.  The Board based their decision on a finding that claimant deliberately accessed a file without authorization.  At the Board hearing, claimant presented evidence that the MIDAS system required him to go through the allegedly unauthorized screens in order to access the authorized screens.

DECISION: Decision of the Board of Review was not supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the whole record.  Decision of the Board of Review reversed and decision of the ALJ affirmed.

RATIONALE: Because (1) there were valid reasons for claimant to access the entire MIDAS system, rather than the limited use supposed by the employer’s “need to know” policy, and (2) access to the authorized screens required going through the unauthorized screens first, the claimant’s actions were a “good faith error in judgement.”

Digest Author: James Mestichelli, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 3/1/2016

12. Misconduct

Washington v. Michigan Training Unit, Department of Corrections – 12.151

Washington v. Michigan Training Unit, Department of Corrections

Digest No. 12.151
Section 29(1)(b)

Cite as: Washington v Michigan Training Unit, unpublished opinion of the Ingham County Circuit Court, issued March 27, 2007 (Docket No. 06-869-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Shawonna Washington
Employer: Michigan Training Unit, Department of Corrections
Date of decision: March 27, 2007

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HOLDING: None of the following constitute misconduct under Section 421.29(1)(b): (1) absence for illness supported by a doctor’s note, (2) pre-authorized absence to attend a funeral, and (3) absence for inability to drive a long distance due to lack of gas money.

FACTS: Claimant’s employer required her to subscribe to a “last chance agreement” to address her job performance. The employer later deemed she violated it for: (1) absence for illness supported by a doctor’s note, (2) pre-authorized absence to attend a funeral, and (3) absence for inability to drive a long distance due to lack of gas money. Claimant was then disqualified from benefits by the UIA based on a determination of work-related misconduct. The ALJ and Board of Review affirmed.

DECISION: The alleged violations did not rise to misconduct under Section 421.29(1)(b).

RATIONALE: The lower decisions erred by failing to properly apply the Michigan Supreme Court’s “carelessness or negligence principle,” Carter v Employment Security Comm., 364 Mich 538 (1961), to the claimant’s conduct. This principle requires behavior to be more culpable than ordinary negligence or inadvertence—which was all the claimant’s behavior was—to be misconduct. The court found nothing in the record to support a finding of willful disregard of the employer’s interest by Claimant. At most, Claimant was unable to understand what was expected of her, made a good-faith error, or was inadvertently remiss. None of these failings rises to misconduct. Furthermore, even had Claimant violated the agreement, this would not have necessarily constituted misconduct. And in any case, as a matter of law such a violation would not be connected with the work because it was a rule of selection and not one of conduct. Reed v Employment Security Comm, 364 Mich 395 (1961).

Digest author: Austin L. Webbert, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest updated: November 26, 2017

12. Misconduct

Tuck v. ESC – 12.52

Tuck v. ESC
Digest No. 12.52

Section 421.29

Cite as: Tuck v ESC, 152 Mich App 579 (1986).

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals
Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Dave W. Tuck
Employer: Ashcraft’s Market, Inc.
Date of decision: April 24, 1986

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HOLDING: Breach of rules, negligence, or good faith error in judgment with respect to a single incident does not necessarily rise to the level of misconduct under the Carter definition. Claimant is not disqualified for misconduct because of the unauthorized removal of property, which has de minimis value, of an employer.

FACTS: Claimant, a meat-cutter, removed two cartons of fish from employer’s premises without authorization. Claimant observed the fish were thawed and could not be sold and took it upon himself to see to their disposal since the regular manager was unavailable. He removed the fish through the back door of the supermarket, which was strictly against his employer’s rule, and took it home to use as bear bait.

DECISION: Claimant is not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits under section 29.

RATIONALE: Pursuant to Carter, not every breach of company rules rises to the level of misconduct for purposes of section 29. The court reasoned, “[i]t is clear that, while misconduct may justify an employee’s discharge for breach of company rules, not every such breach rises to the level of misconduct sufficient to disqualify the employee for unemployment benefits.”

The court notes that the employer had full authority to fire Claimant, but that did not mean he was disqualified from receiving benefits, necessarily.

Digest author: Travis R. Miller, Michigan Law, Class of 2018 (Board of Review original Digest)
Digest updated: December 23, 2017