This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
T.R.M. Services, Inc.,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Filed May 30, 2000
T.R.M. Services, Inc., Post Office Box 23250, Des Moines, IA 50325 (respondent)
Kent E. Todd, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner of Economic Security)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Relator Dan Lassila seeks review of the commissioner’s determination that he was disqualified from receiving reemployment benefits because he was discharged from his employment for misconduct. We reverse.
Lassila worked as a truck driver for respondent T.R.M. Services, Inc. On May 11, 1999, at about 11:30 p.m., shortly after leaving the St. Paul terminal driving a company truck, Lassila was involved in a two-vehicle accident. Traveling westbound on Wabash approaching Vandalia, Lassila struck the side of a van as he entered the intersection. Police responded to a 911 call and cited Lassila for inattentive driving. The driver of the van was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Personnel from the Minnesota Department of Transportation arrived and inspected the truck. At approximately 1:30 a.m., Lassila was allowed to leave. Lassila then completed his route by driving to Madison and back. When he returned to the St. Paul terminal at about 9:30 a.m. he reported the accident to the terminal manager.
On May 14, 1999, T.R.M. terminated Lassila for failure to report the accident from the scene. A letter of termination cited the employee handbook, which lists as a serious offense causing immediate termination: "Failure to report an accident in a company or customer vehicle from the scene of the accident." Lassila applied for reemployment insurance and the department of economic security issued a determination of nondisqualification. After T.R.M. appealed, a reemployment insurance judge held a hearing and affirmed the nondisqualification determination, explaining that Lassila did not commit disqualifying misconduct because neither the handbook policy clearly required nor did T.R.M. instruct Lassila to call T.R.M. immediately.
T.R.M. appealed the reemployment insurance judge's decision to the commissioner's representative. The commissioner's representative reversed, explaining
the language in the policy is not determinative in this case. Reporting an accident to the employer in a timely manner, especially when injuries are involved, is such a fundamental standard of behavior that an employer has the right to expect of an employee that Lassila should have known without being told that he had a duty to contact TRM as soon as he was released by the authorities and most definitely before continuing on with his route. At the very least, Lassila's failure to contact TRM in a timely manner was negligent conduct demonstrating Lassila's lack of concern for the employment. Either way, the evidence supports a finding that Lassila was discharged for misconduct within the meaning of the Minnesota economic security law.
In economic security cases, the commissioner’s findings of fact are viewed in the light most favorable to the decision and will not be disturbed if there is reasonable evidence to support them. McGowan v. Executive Express Transp. Enters., 420 N.W.2d 592, 594 (Minn. 1988). This court, however, is not bound by the commissioner’s conclusions of law and may exercise its independent judgment on such issues. Ress v. Abbott N.W. Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989); McGowan, 420 N.W.2d at 594.
An employee who is discharged for misconduct is disqualified from receiving reemployment insurance benefits. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 4(1) (1998). The determination whether the employee committed a particular act or acts is a question of fact. Scheunemann v. Radisson S. Hotel, 562 N.W.2d 32, 34 (Minn. App. 1997). Whether those acts constituted misconduct is a question of law. Id.
The Minnesota legislature has defined disqualifying misconduct as
intentional conduct showing a disregard of:
(1) the employer's interest;
(2) the standards of behavior that an employer has the right to expect of the employee; or
(3) the employee's duties and obligations to the employer.
Misconduct also includes negligent conduct by an employee demonstrating a substantial lack of concern for the employment. Inefficiency, inadvertence, simple unsatisfactory conduct, or poor performance as a result of inability or incapacity are not misconduct.
Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6. (1998). We must narrowly construe disqualification provisions. Smith v. Employers' Overload Co., 314 N.W.2d 220, 221-22 (Minn. 1981).
The alleged misconduct on which T.R.M. and the commissioner's representative rely is Lassila's failure to immediately call T.R.M. and report the accident. Lassila argues that he complied with company policy as expressed in the employee handbook. The handbook lists failure to report an accident from the scene. Lassila reads this to mean reporting to the police, not T.R.M. We believe this a reasonable interpretation and conclude that Lassila did not violate the policy as expressed in the handbook.
The commissioner's representative decided that the handbook language is not determinative and concluded that Lassila should have contacted T.R.M. "as soon as he was released by the authorities and most definitely before continuing on with his route." The commissioner's representative opined that this was a fundamental standard of behavior that an employer had a right to expect. We disagree. When the authorities allowed Lassila to leave the scene it was 1:30 a.m., nothing was wrong with his truck and the St. Paul terminal was closed. He reported the accident to his terminal manager when he finished his route the next morning. Under these circumstances, Lassila's conduct did not fall below the fundamental standard that an employer has the right to expect.
Neither do we agree with the commissioner's representative's alternative theory that failure to immediately notify T.R.M. of the accident was negligent conduct demonstrating a substantial lack of concern for his employment. When Lassila left the accident scene, he actually completed his route, then reported the accident to T.R.M. the next morning. Even if this was negligent conduct, it was not conduct demonstrating a substantial lack of concern for his employment.