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Unemployment bill awaits Missouri governor's pen

If Missouri's Governor Jay Nixon signs SB 510 into law, it could make it more problematic for workers who are terminated from their jobs to get unemployment benefits.

Under provisions of the bill, the definition of the word "misconduct" will be changed regarding the reasons why employees can be turned down for unemployment benefits. The new definition will include committing a "knowing violation of an employer's rules or standards." Under the present definition, an employee must wantonly or willfully disregard their employer's interests.

Perhaps even more concerning for Missouri workers is that an employee's actions outside of their workplace that are deemed to be "connected to work" may also factor into the definition of employee misconduct.

Those in support argued that the change is needed to fix a broken unemployment system where they allege that workers should not be entitled to benefits yet still receive them. The Republican sponsor of the bill from Jackson County cited examples where employees had fallen asleep while on the clock, embezzled money and urinated off buildings and still collected their benefits.

The bill's opponents said in a recent House debate that altering the language unfairly shifts the burden of proof toward workers, who lack the resources of their employers. One Democratic representative from Berkeley asserted that businesses already held the upper hand by being in a position to deny their workers' claims.

"What we'll actually be doing is making it harder for the workers to look for a job in a manner that still allows them to meet their needs," he said. He went on to say that the proposed bill will "allow them to take advantage of workers, which they already do."

A broader alteration of the misconduct definition received a gubernatorial veto in 2013 and the Legislature decided not to override it. Some who previously didn't support the earlier version have voiced their support for this amended version. The bill passed the House 107-45 and the Senate gave its approval along party lines with a vote of 22-9.

Workers who face a battle with their former employers over their benefits or employee rights may want to speak with a Missouri employment law attorney for advice and assistance.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Missouri House approves bill redefining ‘misconduct’ for unemployment purposes" Marie French, Apr. 29, 2014

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