Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Curiosity Killed the Cat and the Unemployment Claim

When people ask employment lawyers why we do what we do, inevitably one of the reasons is because of the stories. Truthfully, you can't make some of this stuff up.

If you doubt me, just check out the Des Moine Register story, Man fired for getting gassed on spilled ethanol at work, about a contested claim for unemployment insurance where the fired employee had a .72 blood alcohol level (9 times the legal limit in most states) after he drank ethanol that had spilled into a holding tank.

The exchange between the hearing examiner and the employee:
"Why would you drink fuel?"
"I don't have a good explanation for that," he replied. "Curiosity?"
Unlike some unemployment hearings, this one ended up with more than a little common sense:

"The employer has a right to expect employees not to drink the fuel," [the hearing examiner] ruled. "Just because some of the ethanol leaked onto the floor is not a good reason for the claimant to drink automobile fuel."
A funny story -- on the other hand, another lesson you learn when you do employment law is that every story has two sides. In this case the employee was a recovering alcoholic, who among other things had been convicted twice for driving while intoxicated. It doesn't excuse the conduct nor should it change the result, but it's a good reminder that before jumping to conclusions you need to make sure that you understand the whole story. The conclusions may stay the same, but you may view it in an entirely different perspective than you did.

A thanks to my colleagues Marie Hejl for finding the story and Rose Jennings for passing it on.

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