JEFFERSON CITY - Workers fired for professional misconduct would find it more difficult to collect unemployment benefits under legislation endorsed by state senators.
The Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that broadens the definition of workplace misconduct to include actions such as tardiness and absenteeism, violations of an employer’s rules and misconduct outside of the workplace.
Bill sponsor Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said the current definition of misconduct allows fired workers who had clearly done something wrong to still receive benefits, putting more of a burden on businesses.
“I think it’s a win for the state, a win for Missouri businesses,” Kraus said.
Kraus said the definition in the bill is based on a Florida change passed last year that drastically reduced unemployment liability. The legislation would explicitly include chronic tardiness or absenteeism; an unapproved absence after a previous warning; and a violation of no-call, no-show policies under the definition of misconduct. It also includes any violation of the employer’s rules, unless the worker can show they did not and could not be expected to know the rule.
The approved legislation also states that the alleged misconduct outside of the workplace would have to be related to the job.
No one spoke against the bill after it was clarified that misconduct off the job had to be related to performance of the job. Even Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, said she understood the benefits of the change.
Kraus and other senators gave examples of instances where employees had received unemployment benefits after embezzling money, sexually harassing a co-worker and urinating off a school building while on the job.
Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, told a story of an employee who was fired after he did not put a parking brake on before leaving a truck, which then rolled into a building. Lager said the employer fired the employee, who still received unemployment benefits.
“We have a system that’s broke,” Lager said. “It’s the lack of reason, common sense and any form of reality that is currently happening over at the division (of employment security in the Department of Labor).”
The Department of Labor bases its decisions on how to award unemployment benefits on existing case law. Kraus said changing the definition would mean the courts would have to reinterpret what constitutes misconduct, causing the department to change the standards it uses to award unemployment benefits in cases where a business alleges misconduct.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce released a statement supporting the legislation. It said the current definition of misconduct was being interpreted broadly.
“This raises the costs on all employers who fund the system,” said Tracy King, the Missouri Chamber vice president of governmental affairs. "We need to protect the system for the purpose it was intended."
The Senate gave first round approval to the bill without objection. It will have to be given final approval before going to the House.