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Unemployment Insurance in Michigan: The Basics of misconduct and voluntary quits

Posted by attorney Travis Dafoe

Unemployment insurance was intended to provide a safety net for people who are out of work. Generally, once you lose a job you are eligible for unemployment insurance from the state of Michigan. There are two main ways that an employee is ineligible for unemployment: misconduct and voluntary leaving.

MCL § 421.29 provides the statutory guidelines for disqualification.

Under section (a) an employee is ineligible if he or she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer. If the employee seeks unemployment payments after quitting, the employee must present the court with evidence that a legitimate good cause existed. Courts have held that mere dissatisfaction with working conditions does not constitute good cause. If the decision to quit is based on personal economic reasons courts have held that is not good cause. An employers refusal to change the shift of an employee is not good cause, but a shift change made by the employer may be good cause.

Under section (b) an employee is ineligible if he or she was terminated or suspended for misconduct. Misconduct was defined in the case of Carter v ESC, 364 Mich 538 (1961). The standard defined is a steep burden for the employer to prove, however, it is not always applied that way.

Misconduct . . . is limited to conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer’s interest as is found:

  1. in deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee, or
  2. in carelessness or negligence of such a degree or recurrence as to

    1. manifest culpability, wrongful intent or evil design, or
    2. show an intentional and substantial disregard of
    3. the employer’s interest, or
      1. the employee’s duties and obligations to his employer.

What constitutes misconduct is applied differently and a highly factual inquiry. Cases have found that vulgar and abusive language may be misconduct, but every use of a vulgar epithet does not necessarily constitute misconduct. Broyles v. Aeroquip Corp, 176 Mich App 175 (1989). Case law suggests that a series of related incidents or violations of last chance agreement may be misconduct. H & L Mfg. Co. v Stevenson, unpublished decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals, Dk. No. 90417 (Dec. 15, 1987); Osborn v Superior Data Corp., unpublished decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals, Dk. No. 207997 (Nov. 30, 1999) Summaries of both cases available at http://www.dleg.state.mi.us/ham/mes/digest/mes_digest/Table%20of%20Contents.htm

The process of seeking and challenging unemployment decisions is frequently derided for a number of reasons. The system is not always perfect, but you should keep this in mind whether you are an employee or employer — generally, the employee is eligible if fired and ineligible if they quit. Both of those propositions are subject to challenge, but the challenge is subject to evidence available to prove it and the Administrative Law Judges interpretation of that evidence.

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