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Where the potential for harm to an employer by an employee's conduct is remote or speculative, this potential will not satisfy the requirement of harm to the employer for purposes of a finding of employee misconduct under 820 ILCS 405/602(A) (2012) of the Unemployment Insurance Act. Courts consider whether there was a realistic potential for the employer to be harmed by the plaintiff's conduct. In making this inquiry, courts must keep in mind that while the claimant bears the burden of proving she is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits, the Act must be liberally construed in favor of giving benefits.
The plaintiff, Clara E. Wise, was discharged from her employment with Casino Queen for insubordination. She was discharged from her position as a cook and buffet station attendant for refusing to follow her supervisor’s instruction to get more ice and water to put under the coleslaw and tuna salad pans in order to keep them cooled to a safe temperature. The Department of Employment Security denied Wise’s claim for unemployment insurance benefits. On a petition for administrative review, the circuit court reversed the final administrative decision, finding that there was no harm to the employer. The defendants, Casino Queen, Inc., the Department of Employment Security and its director, the Board of Review of the Department of Employment Security (Board of Review or Board), and members of the Board of Review, appealed. They argued that the circuit court incorrectly concluded that the decision of the Board of Review was clearly erroneous.
Did Wise’s conduct constitute misconduct for purposes of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 820 ILCS 405/602(A) (2012)?
The court found that Wise’s conduct constituted misconduct for purposes of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 820 ILCS 405/602(A) (2012). Potential harm to the employer's customer could have resulted from her conduct. Her direct refusal, in front of other employees, was more than merely argumentative behavior or a single flurry of temper. Moreover, the instruction was to perform a task related to the safety of customers to prevent the development of bacteria.