Refusing To Sign A Warning Considered Misconduct!?

The Court of Appeal in Paratransit v. UIAB, tackled a common wrongfully terminated question for employees, can my employer fire me for not signing a written disciplinary notice? According the Court in the Paratransit case, the answer could be yes.

Craig Medeiros, the employee who was fired, was a union member. His negotiated union contract required his employer to obtain the signature of the employee being issued a disciplinary notice. The notices however, must include a disclaimer that states that the employee is only acknowledging receipt of the document.

The employer received a customer complaint that Craig Medeiros was rude. In turn, he was issued a disciplinary notice. Craig Medeiros denied being rude to the customer and refused to sign the disciplinary notice because he feared it would be deemed an admission of guilt. He was told that he will be fired if he did not sign. He refused to sign the disciplinary notice and true to their threat, the employer terminated his employment as a result of his refusal.

Craig Medeiros then applied for unemployment, which Paratransit contested. Paratransit argued that if you are fired for “misconduct”, you are disqualified from receiving unemployment. The Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board was not persuaded by Paratransits arguments and granted Craig Medeiros’ request for benefits. Paratransit then took the matter to the Superior Court, which agreed with Paratransit. The employee then appealed to the California Court of Appeal.

Unemployment Insurance Code Section 1256 states that “[a]n individual is disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits if . . . he or she has been discharged for misconduct connected with his or her most recent work.” Misconduct within the meaning of section 1256 is limited to “conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer’s interests as is found in deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree or recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or evil design, or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer’s interests or the employee’s duties and obligations to his employer. On the other hand mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed ‘misconduct’ within the meaning of the statute . . ..” [emphasis added].

The Court of Appeal held in refusing to sign the disciplinary notice, Craig Medeiros breached his obligations under California Labor Code Section 2856, which states that: “[a]n employee shall substantially comply with all the directions of his employer concerning the service on which he is engaged, except where such obedience is impossible or unlawful, or would impose new and unreasonable burdens upon the employee.”

Being that the obligation to sign a disciplinary notice was an agreed upon term that his Union negotiated, Craig Medeiros’ refusal to sign was in direct violation of his agreement to do so. This was deemed insubordination, and thus, he was terminated for “misconduct.” As this example makes clear, employees must be informed of the rules and regulations surrounding their employment whether they belong to a Union or not. Otherwise, you may not know if your actions can be construed as “misconduct” or not. If you believe you have been unfairly treated or wrongfully terminated from your job, you should contact Aegis Law Firm for a free consultation.