Many people who contact me to challenge the denial of their unemployment benefits are pleasantly surprised to learn that even though they've been found to have engaged in gross misconduct because they got into an altercation with their supervisor, they may still be entitled to unemployment benefits. The reason is simple -- when a hearing examiner conducts an appeal, the examiner must determine if the employee engaged in gross misconduct, simple misconduct or no misconduct, and therefore the examiner analyzes several different factors, such as whether the employee initiated the altercation or was provoked by the supervisor, whether the employee used profanity, and if so, whether the supervisor used profanity, whether the employee made any threatening statements or yelled at the supervisor, whether the altercation occurred in view of customers, and whether the altercation was disruptive. If the answers to these questions are negative; in other words, if the employee did not start the fight, if the employee did not use any profanity or threatening language, if the altercation took place out of sight of customers and if the altercation was not disruptive, then the employee may be entitled to unemployment benefits -- even though the employee was involved in an altercation with a manager.
Perhaps its my imagination, but its seems like I am getting at least two or three inquiries each week from persons who believe they were improperly terminated in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") -- and some of them may have a case! Just last week we settled a case where an employee of a retail store in Towson suffered a serious leg injury while working and went to the emergency room, where he was told that he would need surgery. He contacted his direct supervisor, advised him that he was in the hospital and told him he would likely be out of work for at least a few weeks. Two days later, when the employee stopped by the store to pick up the workers comp paperwork, he was told that his employment was terminated, because he "set a bad example for the other employees" by needing so much time off. In light of the fact that the employee was a full-time employee who had worked at the store for more than a year and suffered a substantial injury, he was entitled to twelve weeks of unpaid leave -- instead, his employment was terminated. We quickly negotiated a favorable settlement with his employer.
Ultimately, while the FMLA poses many obstacles for employees and is seemingly designed to benefit only those employees who have worked for large corporations for more than one year, the FMLA may protect you if you are fired because you are suffering from a serious injury or medical problem or need to care for an immediate family member.