Eligibility For Unemployment Benefits

In a recent case regarding unemployment benefit eligibility, the plaintiff, Petrovic, was fired from defendant American Airlines after she gave a gift and a first class upgrade to a passenger without authorization.

Petrovic filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Illinois Department of Employment Security. The Board of Review denied her claim on the ground that she was discharged for misconduct, so she filed a complaint for administrative review, where the trial court reversed the Board’s decision. The Board then appealed.

On appeal, the Board argued that Petrovic was employed as a tower planner for the airline. On the date in question, she left her work area without her manager’s approval to secure an undocumented upgrade for a “friend of a friend.” She had been issued a performance discussion less than a year earlier regarding being out of her work area.

The Board claimed that Petrovic received PC based training where she was made aware of the policies that only authorized employees may issue upgrades, and that employees are expected to remain in their work areas during their shifts unless given permission by their managers. Petrovic did not receive permission for any of her actions and admitted to receiving the PC based training.

Petrovic’s supervisor testified that along with the approximately $7,100 loss to the airline, the procedure for moving a passenger also affects the load audit necessary for an accurate weight and balance number, causing safety concerns.

The Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act denies benefits to employees discharged for misconduct. Under the Act, three elements must be proven to establish misconduct: “(1) there was a deliberate and willful violation of a rule or policy of the employing unit, (2) the rule or policy was reasonable, and (3) the violation either harmed the employer or was repeated by the employee despite a previous warning or other explicit instruction from the employing unit.” 820 ILCS 405/602(A).

There is plenty of Illinois case law stating that a rule or policy does not need to be written or otherwise formalized in order to be applied. The court may find the existence of a reasonable rule “by a commonsense realization that certain conduct intentionally and substantially disregards an employer’s interests.” Willful conduct stems from an employee’s awareness of, and conscious disregard for, a company rule.

Here, Petrovic admitted that she left her work area to procure an unauthorized upgrade. Though she claimed she was unaware of any rule or policy, the record indicated otherwise. Further, Petrovic admitted to being aware that she did not have authority to perform the actions she took.

The appellate court ultimately ruled that Petrovic’s actions resulted in financial loss to the employer, making her termination rightfully based on misconduct. They reversed the decision of the trial court that reversed the denial by the Board of Review, leaving Petrovic ineligible for unemployment benefits.

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