Q&A with Mike Lauderdale
‘Misconduct' redefined to help challenge unemployment claims
Q: I understand the Oklahoma Legislature recently enacted changes regarding the ability of a discharged employee to obtain unemployment benefits. Tell us about the changes.
A: Yes. Starting on Nov. 1, Oklahoma employees who file for unemployment after being terminated for cause will have significantly more difficulty qualifying for benefits due to a recent statutory amendment which provides a new legal definition of “misconduct.”
Q: What was the standard under the prior law?
A: While Oklahoma employers could challenge unemployment claims in situations where the employee was terminated for cause, proving such misconduct was difficult because the term “misconduct” was not defined by the Legislature. Accordingly, the courts crafted their own definition which placed a high burden upon the employer to meet in order to disqualify employees from receiving benefits even where the separation from employment was for cause. Basically, in order to prove “misconduct,” an employer was required to show that the reason for separation was an intentional or deliberate violation or disregard of standards of behavior or a high level of carelessness or negligence. Mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure of good performance as a result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion were not deemed to be “misconduct.”