Absent a Policy or Prior Warnings, Termination for Using Work Computers for Personal Use Lacks Just Cause - Unemployment News - 9/28/2016

At an employer that lacked a policy prohibiting use of its computers for personal use, who gave mixed signals regarding such use, and in the absence of prior reprimand or warning, an employee who makes use of the computers for personal use during work hours “did not exhibit sufficient fault to provide just cause for discharge for purposes of unemployment benefits.” 

Karen Skunta & Co., Inc. v. Unemp. Comp. Rev. Comm., 2016-Ohio-5847 (8th Dist.)


September 15, 2016

Laurie made the decision to run for public office.  In March 2014, the Employer found some of Laurie's campaign material on her work computer.  The Employer told Laurie that it was admirable and gave her a donation for her campaign.  The Employer had no policy prohibiting use of the work computers for personal use and other employees did the same.  On May 10, 2016, four days after Laurie won her primary, the Employer found more campaign material on her work computer and on May 15, 2016 terminated her employment, "telling her that she didn't think she could run for office and work full-time."

After a telephone hearing regarding Laurie's eligibility for unemployment compensation, the Hearing Officer concluded the following:

In fact, the available evidence is to the contrary, as the employer expressed support for claimant's campaign and had offered the use of office resources, and a designer to help in a forum the claimant had put on the previous fall. It also seems more than coincidental that there is no evidence of the employer expressing concern about claimant's activities until four days after claimant won the primary election. Without any evidence of prior reprimand or warning concerning the use of company resources and company time on her political campaign, there is insufficient fault on claimant's part to prove just cause for discharge.

The Employer appealed to the common pleas court, which affirmed the decision of the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission.  Likewise, the 8th District affirmed the decision, in part relying upon its limited standard of review:  A reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commission simply because it interprets the evidence differently. That reasonable minds might reach different conclusions is not a basis for the reversal of the Commission's decision."