PA Unemployment Compensation Benefits Allowed Despite Use of “Moron”

While we limit our practice to representing injured workers in Pennsylvania workers’ compensation cases, We could not help but notice a recent PA unemployment compensation case decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

Unemployment compensation benefits are generally available in Pennsylvania when an employee involuntarily loses his or her job, provided there was no “willful misconduct.” What constitutes “willful misconduct,” as is so often in the law, varies from case to case.

In the case of Brown v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, the employee was a battery machine operator. When he placed a sign on a defective battery stating “do not use,” the sign had been ignored. He then put signs on defective batteries, stating, “To the moron who can’t read do not use this,” “do not use this battery” and “Not charging you moron.” The employee was promptly terminated for his use of the word “moron.”

The local Unemployment Compensation Service Center denied the application for unemployment compensation benefits, a finding echoed by an unemployment compensation referee and then the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (Board). All found the behavior of the employee to be “willful misconduct.”

Upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania disagreed, reversing the decision of the Board and allowing unemployment compensation benefits. In pertinent part, the Court concluded:

Because ‘moron’ is neither a threatening word nor a word totally outside the bounds of what one might expect to encounter in a large and busy warehouse, we conclude that Claimant’s use of the word “moron” did not rise to the level of willful misconduct.”

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