Employment Application Key in Denial of Unemployment Benefits

I find employment applications are commonly taken too lightly by employers. The questions are pretty limited and the answers given are not closely scrutinized. A recent court of appeals decision highlights the importance of a quality employment application, particularly in regulated industries.

In the matter of Wilson v. Mortgage Resource Center, inc. ("MRC") Ms. Wilson completed an application for employment as a customer service representative. The job responsibilities included “end-user product support, moderately complex technical support, invoicing support, order placement and lead qualification.” The minimum education requirements included a 2-4 year post-high school degree. MRC had a well-written verification at the end of its application that included affirmation by the applicant of the veracity of the contents of the application. To the point, Ms. Wilson provided false information in her application regarding her education background and, as a result, was fired.

The issue before the Minnesota Supreme Court was whether Ms. Wilson's act of providing false information on her employment application constituted "employee misconduct", as that term is defined in Minnesota statutes. Employee misconduct is defined as intentional, negligent, or indifferent conduct, on the job or off, that clearly demonstrates a serious violation of the standards of behavior the employer can reasonably expect of the employee. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6(a)(1).

The arguments raised on Ms. Wilson's behalf were: 1. The actions involved in the application process cannot be employee misconduct because, at the time of application there is not an employee-employer relationship and 2. The education background of the applicant was not material to the hiring decision.

Affirming the ULJ's decision, the supreme court concluded that Ms. Wilson's misrepresentations regarding her education were serious, intentional, and contradicted MRC's (and every employer's) right to expect an applicant be honest about their educational background. This is, from my perspective, a refreshing opinion supporting employer's in an area of law (unemployment benefits) that radically favors the employee.

Your business's employment application deserves a new look and updating to ensure the job qualifications important to you and the role you are filling are asked for and answered. That task does not necessarily require a lawyer, but handling employment terminations and the reasons for termination usually do. To best protect against undeserved unemployment benefits being awarded, call me in advance of a termination so I can help position your company to avoid undue risks.

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