This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Wanda J. Schmidgall,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Department of Economic Security
File No. 632200
Douglas A. Hedin, Elizabeth A. Glidden, Hedin & Goldberg, P.A., 2100 Stevens Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404 (for relator)
Marko J. Mrkonich, Chad W. Strathman, Littler Mendelson, P.C., 33 South Sixth Street, Suite 3110, Minneapolis, MN 55402-3720 (for respondent Filmtec Corporation)
Kent E. Todd, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Department of Economic Security)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
This appeal is from a determination that relator Wanda Schmidgall is not entitled to receive unemployment compensation benefits because she was discharged from employment for misconduct. We affirm.
Respondent FilmTec Corporation employed Schmidgall as a production worker from June 1999 until July 14, 2000. A FilmTec safety rule, which is set forth in FilmTec’s employee handbook, states:
Any accident occurring at work must be reported to your supervisor and the site Safety Coordinator during the shift the incident occurs. * * * All injuries, no matter how slight, must be reported so that:
1. You are assured of getting proper medical attention.
2. A complete record of all accidents is maintained for review and evaluation.
3. You are protected by Worker’s Compensation Insurance for work related injuries.
When Schmidgall began working for FilmTec, she received orientation training about FilmTec’s accident and injury reporting rule and was provided with a copy of the employee handbook.
On September 22, 1999, Schmidgall bumped her shoulder on a cart, injuring her shoulder and back. Schmidgall testified that the injury occurred after her 6:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. shift had ended. She did not report the injury to FilmTec until 7:30 a.m. on September 23, 1999, during her next shift. On September 24, 1999, Schmidgall received a coaching session from her supervisor about FilmTec’s rule requiring that an accident or injury be reported during the shift when it occurs.
At 10:00 a.m. on May 22, 2000, while at work, Schmidgall slipped on a piece of foam and injured her back. She did not report the injury to her supervisor until the next morning. The following week, Schmidgall received a written warning from her supervisor stating that she had violated the company procedure set forth in the employee handbook and in a safety standard requiring “that all injuries must be reported to supervision on the shift that they occur.” The warning advised Schmidgall that future violations of Filmtec policy or standard practice would “result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”
At about noon on July 5, 2000, while working at a cutting table, Schmidgall injured her back. When Schmidgall returned from lunch at 12:30 p.m., the pain became so bad that she was unable to complete her assigned work and instead performed light-duty tasks for the rest of her shift. Schmidgall discussed the injury with her coworkers but did not report it to her supervisor.
The following day, Schmidgall’s back still hurt. She told her supervisor that she had injured her back the previous day and that she was in a great deal of pain, but she did not complete an accident and injury report. Schmidgall performed some light-duty tasks until her supervisor sent her home. On Friday, July 7, 2000, Schmidgall called in sick.
On Monday, July 10, 2000, Schmidgall still had back pain, so she called her supervisor and told him that she was going to see a doctor. Schmidgall returned to work on July 11, 2000, and completed a first report of injury. FilmTec presented evidence that this was the first time Schmidgall notified her supervisor that the injury was work related. Although the commissioner’s representative did not make an express finding on when Schmidgall reported that the injury was work related, his findings and reasons for decision, read as a whole, indicate that he found that Schmidgall’s oral report to her supervisor on July 6, 2000, fulfilled FilmTec’s accident and injury reporting requirement. FilmTec suspended Schmidgall on July 11, 2000, and discharged her from employment on July 14, 2000, for violating its accident and injury reporting policies and procedures.
A commissioner’s representative determined that Schmidgall was discharged from employment for misconduct. Schmidgall filed this certiorari appeal, seeking review of the commissioner’s representative’s decision.
On appeal, this court reviews the commissioner’s representative’s decision, not the decision of the unemployment law judge. Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995). This court reviews findings of fact in the light most favorable to the commissioner’s representative’s decision and will not disturb them as long as there is evidence that reasonably tends to sustain them. Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989). Whether an employee committed disqualifying misconduct is a mixed question of fact and law. Colburn v. Pine Portage Madden Bros., Inc., 346 N.W.2d 159, 161 (Minn. 1984). The determination whether the employee committed a particular act or acts is a question of fact. Scheunemann v. Radisson South Hotel, 562 N.W.2d 32, 34 (Minn. App. 1997). Whether the acts constitute misconduct is a question of law on which this court is “free to exercise its independent judgment.” Ress, 448 N.W.2d at 523.
Schmidgall argues that FilmTec’s accident and injury reporting policy is unreasonable because it is contrary to Minn. Stat. § 176.141 (2000), which allows an employee 30 days to report an injury to an employer for purposes of receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Schmidgall contends that the same-shift reporting requirement deters an employee from reporting an injury when the injury manifests its seriousness only later because the employee could be fired for late reporting. But on all three occasions when Schmidgall was injured, the fact that she had been injured was apparent when the accidents occurred. She did not fail to report an injury because she did not realize that she had been injured.
Furthermore, FilmTec’s accident and injury reporting rule is intended to ensure that an injured employee receives proper medical attention and that a complete record of the incident is maintained for review and evaluation purposes. FilmTec’s safety policy requires a root cause investigation to determine the cause of the accident or injury and take steps to prevent similar incidents. The reporting rule addresses legitimate concerns regarding the injured employee’s health and preventing future accidents and injuries. The fact that the rule could deter reporting when there is a delayed manifestation of an injury does not make the rule unreasonable.
Schmidgall cites Ducote v. J.A. Jones Constr. Co., 471 So. 2d 704 (La. 1985), to support her argument that the same-shift reporting rule is unreasonable. The Ducote court upheld a finding that an employee’s violation of a same-shift reporting rule was a pretext for firing him and that he was actually fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Id. at 707. But the court also noted that “the company’s policy of requiring injuries to be reported immediately after they occur is a valid one.” Id.
Citing an unpublished opinion of this court, Lassila v. T.R.M. Servs., Inc., No. C9-99-1659, 2000 WL687622 (Minn. App. May 30, 2000), Schmidgall argues that this court has implicitly recognized a distinction between safety rules, like wearing protective equipment, which are designed to prevent injuries before they occur, and reporting rules, which only apply after an accident or injury has happened. In Lassila, the employee handbook required truck drivers “to report an accident from the scene.” Id. at 2. This court held that the employee complied with the policy by reporting the accident to police from the scene and did not commit misconduct by delaying in reporting the accident to his employer until he completed his route the next morning. Id. The opinion does not address any distinction between safety and reporting rules. Furthermore, unpublished opinions are not precedential and do not bind this court. Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
Schmidgall next contends that FilmTec’s accident and injury reporting rule imposes an unreasonable burden on employees to the extent that an employee who is injured near the end of a shift has only a short time to report the injury. As to Schmidgall’s first injury, her argument may have merit. It occurred as she was leaving her work area after her shift ended. The injury report indicates that it was a minor incident, bumping into a cart, and that initially Schmidgall felt only a twinge of pain. See Ducote, 471 So. 2d at 707 (when injury did not manifest itself before the end of the workday, employee did all that could fairly be expected by contacting employer that evening to report injury). But Schmidgall was not discharged after the first incident. She was discharged after violating the reporting rule two additional times. Schmidgall’s second injury occurred at 10:00 a.m., leaving her four and a half hours during her shift to report the incident. Her third injury occurred at about noon, leaving her two and a half hours to report. As to these two injuries, the reporting rule was not unduly burdensome.
Regarding her July 5, 2000, injury, Schmidgall argues that FilmTec’s reporting rule is ambiguous because it does not expressly apply to reinjuries. The rule requires reporting of “[a]ll injuries, no matter how slight.” Schmidgall was able to identify a specific cause of the July 5 injury, bending and leaning from the waist while working at a cutting table. The injury was serious enough that Schmidgall discussed it with coworkers and was unable to complete her assigned work. Schmidgall had received an oral coaching session on the accident and injury reporting rule in September 1999 and a written warning regarding the rule in May 2000. She reported the injury to her supervisor the following morning. The evidence is sufficient to support the commissioner’s representative’s finding that Schmidgall was aware of FilmTec’s policies and procedures and the need to report any injury, even a reinjury, to FilmTec on the day it occurred.