COA: No evidence employee violated professional conduct rule

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed the denial of a man’s application for unemployment benefits, finding the record doesn’t support that he was fired for just cause for violating his employer’s professional conduct rules. The man kept a mentally disabled client in a hot car, citing his safety and the safety of other riders.

James Reed worked as a direct support professional for A.W. Holdings LLC in Fort Wayne, which provides day services for disabled people. Reed was transporting three clients when “Client D” as he is referred to in the record, became upset and said he was going to fight. Based on that client’s history, Reed immediately pulled the vehicle over, removed the two other passengers, and kept Client D in the car. He called his supervisors and someone responded to the scene approximately 30 minutes later.

It was warm that day, with temperatures in the car reaching more than 90 degrees. Reed testified at his unemployment benefits hearing that he would open the car door periodically and provide the client with water. He felt keeping the client in the car was best so that he would not run away. One of the other clients Reed had at the scene also had a history of fleeing.

A.W. Holdings fired Reed, claiming he violated a professional conduct rule that employees “in no way exploit, neglect or inflict physical or psychological harm on a client.” His supervisors said he could have called the police or employed a “Mandt” hold, but Reed claimed he did not know he was allowed to call the police and that he would have been unable to restrain the client on his own.

The administrative law judge ruled in favor of the employer, as did the Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.  

Reed appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed in James E. Reed v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and A.W. Holdings, LLC, 93A02-1410-EX-745.

“We conclude that the record lacks substantial evidence to support a finding that Employee knew that his conduct violated Employer’s professional conduct rule that employees ‘in no way exploit, neglect or inflict physical or psychological harm on a client,’” Judge Elaine Brown wrote. “The record does not establish Employee knew or could be charged with the knowledge or reasonably anticipate that his action to restrain Client D in the vehicle under the circumstances could result in the termination of his employment. We reverse the decision of the Board that Employee was terminated for just cause and denying Employee unemployment benefits and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

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