Monday, October 11, 2010

Commonwealth Court: Preschool Teacher Fired For Leaving Child Unattended For Four Minutes In Violation of Employer's 100% Supervision Rule Not Entitled To Unemployment Compensation Benefits

In Oliver v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, No.: 1798 C.D. 2009 (Pa. Cmwlth. 9/1/2010), the Commonwealth Court affirmed a finding of the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review that denied claimant unemployment compensation benefits after claimant was fired from a preschool for violating the school's 100% child supervision policy.

The claimant was a preschool teacher. On February 26, 2009, claimant took her group of six children from the playroom to an outdoor play area. The employer had a policy that a teacher must supervise all of the children in her charge at all times, without exception (the "100% supervision policy"). After claimant had taken her children to the outdoor play area, claimant's supervisor noticed that one child had remained behind in the playroom. She retrieved the child and brought him to the claimant. The supervisor asked claimant how many children she had, and the claimant stated that she had six. The supervisor responded that "no ... you have five, because here is your sixth one." The supervisor reported the incident to claimant's superiors, and claimant was terminated that day for violation of the 100% supervision policy.

Claimant subsequently applied for unemployment compensation benefits, arguing that she had made an honest mistake in violating the 100% supervision policy, and as such, her actions could not constitute "willful misconduct." Claimant testified that when she brought the children outside, she had not realized that one had remained behind in the playroom because she had been distracted by falling into a piece of play equipment in the playroom. Claimant also testified that the child was only left alone for approximately four minutes. Claimant also stated that she was aware of employer's 100% supervision rule, and admitted that she had received a verbal warning for violating that policy back on February 13, 2009. The Unemployment Compensation Board of Review did not find claimant's testimony to be credible, and instead concluded that claimant had engaged in willful misconduct when she violated employer's 100% supervision rule.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the decision of the Board of Review denying claimant's application for benefits. The Court noted that the Board is the ultimate fact-finding body and is empowered to resolve all conflicts of evidence and determine the credibility of witnesses and the weight of the evidence. The Court recognized that the Board had found claimant's testimony internally inconsistent and not credible, and as such, the Court was not empowered to disturb that finding. However, the Court also noted that even if the claimant did stumble and accidentally lose track of the child, she admitted to not counting the children when she first brought them outside, as was required under the employer's 100% supervision policy. As such, even if her actions in losing track of the child constituted an honest mistake, it did not justify claimant's violation of employer's 100% supervision policy. The Court thus held that claimant had violated her employer's rule without establishing good cause for doing so and the Board of Review did not err in denying claimant's application for unemployment compensation benefits.

The Commonwealth Court's full opinion can be read here: http://www.aopc.org/OpPosting/Cwealth/out/1798CD09_9-1-10.pdf