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Minnesota Court Denies Unemployment Benefits, Says Misrepresentation in Hiring Process is Misconduct

Minnesota Court Denies Unemployment Benefits, Says Misrepresentation in Hiring Process is Misconduct
  • December 6, 2010

 

In good news for employers, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has clarified that “employment misconduct” includes a misrepresentation made during hiring and affirmed the denial of unemployment benefits.  Santillana v. Central Minnesota Council on Aging and Minnesota Dep’t of Employment and Econ. Dev., No. 23466835-3 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2010).  Under Minnesota law, an employee who is discharged for employment misconduct is ineligible from receiving unemployment benefits. 

While agreeing with the unemployment-law judge’s determination that the applicant was discharged for employment misconduct, the Court reversed the finding that the discharge was also for aggravated employment misconduct.

Employment Misconduct

“Employment misconduct” is statutorily defined as “any intentional, negligent, or indifferent conduct, on the job or off the job that displays clearly: (1) a serious violation of the standards of behavior the employer has the right to reasonably expect of the employee; or (2) a substantial lack of concern for the employment.”  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6(a).

In Santillana, the appeals court stated, “[A] material misrepresentation during the hiring process [] fit[s] within the statutory definition of employment misconduct.  Intentionally misrepresenting a fact that is material to employment shows a substantial lack of concern for the employment.  A person making a material misrepresentation during the hiring process is therefore ineligible for unemployment benefits if he or she is later discharged because of the misrepresentation.”

Facts of the Case

Krista Santillana had been a grants manager with Central Minnesota Council on Aging, Inc. (CMCA) for approximately one year when she was discharged in September 2009. CMCA had discovered that she did not reveal during her job interview that she was the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation for theft at her previous employer, Good Shepherd (a nursing home).  Her duties at Good Shepherd included assisting residents with their financial obligations.  When CMCA read a newspaper account of Santillana’s conviction for felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult (writing personal checks to herself from a nursing home resident’s checkbook for amounts totaling $6,342), it terminated her employment.

During her job interview with CMCA, Santillana was asked why she left Good Shepherd and responded that she left because she was interested in part-time work.  CMCA never asked her about her criminal background, she did not tell CMCA during the interview about the ongoing criminal investigation, and the background check that CMCA performed before hiring her came back clear.

In December 2008, after Santillana was hired by CMCA, she was charged with felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult.  In May 2009, she pleaded guilty, and her sentence, pursuant to a plea agreement, included a stay of imposition of sentence, a weekend in jail, performance of community service, and payment of a $100 fine.  She did not tell CMCA about the conviction, and CMCA did not have a policy that required such a disclosure.

Employment Misconduct Found

Santillana was found ineligible for unemployment benefits by an unemployment-law judge (ULJ).  The ULJ determined that she was discharged both for employment misconduct and aggravated employment misconduct.

The appeals court agreed with the ULP’s conclusion that Santillana’s “misrepresentation and failure to disclose a material fact [i.e., why she separated from her prior employer] in her interview was a serious violation of the employer’s reasonable expectation… [that] amounts to employment misconduct.”

According to the Court, by responding that she was interested in part-time work when asked why she was leaving Good Shepherd (which implies she left voluntarily), Santillana had misrepresented the true reason for her separation — she was discharged for theft.

On whether the misrepresentation was material to her position at CMCA, where she had access to confidential client information including names, addresses, and Social Security numbers, the Court concluded that it was.  The Court found CMCA had legitimate concerns about continuing to employ her after discovering her conviction.  CMCA said it discharged Santillana, in part, because it was concerned that she “might misuse this confidential information to develop a relationship with seniors in order to exploit them or use her position to entice inappropriate disbursements from nonprofits with which she worked.”  It is unlikely CMCA would have hired her had she disclosed the real reason for her separation from Good Shepherd.  “This indicates materiality,” said the Court.  It affirmed the ULJ’s determination that Santillana was discharged by CMCA for employment misconduct and was therefore ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Aggravated Employment Misconduct Not Found

In addition to making an individual ineligible for unemployment benefits, a discharge for aggravated employment misconduct results in cancellation of wage credits from that employment for purposes of an individual’s benefits account.

“Regardless of whether [Santillana’s] conviction had a significant adverse effect on her employment,” the Court concluded, “an employee cannot be discharged for aggravated employment misconduct based on an act or conduct that would amount to a gross misdemeanor or a felony if the act or conduct occurred before the employment at issue.”  Accordingly, the Court reversed the ULJ’s determination that Santillana was discharged for aggravated employment misconduct.

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The decision provides further confirmation that employers should ask about work history and have a right to expect job applicants to be honest in their answers.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to answer inquiries regarding this case and other workplace laws.

 

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