Irving v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, No. B243417 (September 12, 2014): The California Court of Appeal recently held that a former employee was not entitled to unemployment insurance benefits after being discharged from employment for exceeding his break periods and falsifying his time records. The Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision that found the employee falsified the records based on a good faith misunderstanding of his responsibilities.

Jim Irving was hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District in December 2009 as a truck driver. In May 2010, while still in the probation period of his employment, the district gave him a notice of unsatisfactory service for exceeding his break periods and falsifying time records on four occasions, among other violations of the district’s policies. The district placed Irving on suspension and eventually discharged him from employment.

Irving filed a claim for unemployment benefits. Under California Unemployment Insurance Code section 1256, an individual who is “discharged for misconduct connected with his or her most recent work” is disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. However, the Employment Development Department (EDD) determined that Irving was discharged “for reasons that did not meet the definition of misconduct,” and was entitled to unemployment benefits. The district appealed.

At an administrative hearing, Irving testified that he falsified time records because his supervisors told him to do so since his schedule would vary and not always match the posted schedule. He also took longer breaks because other employees did so as well. The administrative law judge concluded that Irving’s testimony was not credible and his actions constituted “misconduct,” disqualifying him from receiving unemployment benefits. Irving challenged the decision and petitioned the trial court for a writ of mandate.

The trial court heard testimony and found Irving to be credible. It concluded that “any ‘false’ timekeeping was the result of a good faith misunderstanding as to [Irving’s] job duties and responsibilities.” The district appealed the decision.

The California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and held that Irving is disqualified from unemployment benefits. The Court of Appeal noted that section 1256 of the Unemployment Insurance Code creates a rebuttable presumption that an employee was not discharged for misconduct, but allows the employer to present evidence to the contrary. The court noted that Irving “never testified that he was given permission to engage” in taking excessive breaks or to falsify time records related to those breaks. The court rejected the idea that there was a good faith misunderstanding, stating that a reasonable person would have “interpreted Irving’s actions in taking four excessively long breaks and repeatedly falsifying his time records” as dishonest.

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