By Collin Reischman
Jefferson City, Mo. — Sen. Will Kraus, R-8, is proposing legislation that would change how an employee can lose eligibility for state unemployment benefits. The bill, Senate Bill 28, redefines “misconduct,” among other terms.
Kraus, the bill’s sponsor, said that too often employees are terminated for valid reasons but continue to receive state unemployment benefits anyway.
“We’ve written the law too liberally, and now we’re in a situation where we have benefits to all, no matter what, without any personal responsibility,” Kraus told The Missouri Times.
Kraus said a City Council member from his district brought the issue to him. He said an employee was terminated after an incident working in construction on a school urinated off the roof of the building during school hours. However, because of the broad definition of “misconduct,” Kraus says the employee received unemployment benefits after being terminated.
“Employers don’t like to fire someone because replacing an employee is expensive,” Kraus said. “But when someone just doesn’t show up for work or when someone has chronic and continuing lateness, then what is an employer to do?”
Kraus said a similar piece of legislation passed in Florida and, within 18 months, had lowered their unemployment liability by nearly $1 billion. The bill defines misconduct partially as a “knowing” disregard for employer’s interests, duties or obligations. Currently, the law requires an “intentional and substantial” disregard.
On the floor, Kraus presented several cases of individuals who were terminated under extreme circumstances but still received unemployment benefits. One employee was terminated for sexual harassment and continued to get benefits. Another was a teacher who used profanity in front of students. Yet another was caught stealing.
Concerns about whether certain language throughout the bill would allow employees to be terminated for behavior outside of and unrelated to work prompted opposition from democratic senators Jolie Justus, D-10, and Ryan McKenna, D-22, who offered amendments on the floor to tighten up the language.
Kraus viewed the amendment favorably and, after a brief motion to stand at ease and negotiate with McKenna and Justus, Kraus moved to place the bill on the informal calendar.
Kraus told The Missouri Times he expects little opposition once the new amendment is added to the bill, which he called “reasonable and appreciated.” The Senate could vote on the bill as early as Thursday, Feb. 14.
Collin Reischman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @CReischman.