Employers and Unemployment Hearing Officers May Not Deny Benefits for Reasons Outside Those Given At the Time of Termination - Unemployment News- 7/27/2016

The 11th District affirms that the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission and its hearing officers are "not permitted to reference a reason for the claimant's discharge other than the reason stated by the employer."

Maiorca-Notman v. Dir. of Job & Family Servs., 2016 Ohio 4599 (11th Dist.).


June 27, 2016

Ms. Mairorca-Notman was employed as a registered nurse at a home healthcare agency.  The agency had concerns regarding one of their patients ability to live safely at home and, if the matter could not be resolved, might need to contact Adult Protective Services.  As a result, the employer instructed Ms. Maiorca-Nortman to complete an assessment and talk with the patient's daughter about having in-home nursing.  When she did so, the daughter asked what might happen if she declined nursing care.  Ms. Maiorca-Nortman explained that her employer indicated that Adult Protective Services might be called.  The daughter became irate and contacted the employer, which subsequently terminated Ms. Mairorca-Nortman for violating the company's confidentiality policy.

A claim for unemployment compensation was filed, which fell into the appeal process until a telephone hearing was held.  When the hearing officer questioned Ms. Mairorca-Nortman, "at times his questions to her were specific or accusatory, more nearly resembling cross examination. At other times, his questions were completely open-ended without any direction."  She did testify that the confidentiality policy prevented disclosure of, "information about the company's patients, company pricing, agency administration, company projects, investigations of the agency, and agency personnel."  She explained that she did not disclose any of this information and was not given specifics about what she could and could not disclose.

The Hearing Officer agreed that she did not violated the confidentiality policy.  However, he denied her unemployment compensation by reasoning that her actions, "were in "willful disregard of the employer's interest."  The 11th District held that neither the employer nor the hearing officer may rely on reasons for termination that were not given to the employee at the time of the termination.  The hearing officer, "was not permitted to reference a reason for the claimant's discharge other than the reason stated by the employer."  Therefore, once the hearing officer determined that the confidentiality policy was not violated, he exceeded his authority in looking for other reasons to justify the termination.