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Court Says Employer Must Pay Unemployment Benefits to Employee Terminated for Suspended License

February 27, 2012

ST. LOUIS - In Lentz v. Home Security of America, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, ruled on Feb. 21 that an employee of Home Security, James Lentz, has all rights to unemployment benefits after he was discharged by the company for having a suspended license. Having a valid license is a requirement for employment with the company.

This decision reversed earlier court rulings that said Lentz “voluntarily” quit the job as a licensed master plumber and therefore had no rights to unemployment benefits. The Court said, however, that because Home Security helped Lentz reinstate his license by finding other work for him in the meantime, helped to pay for the upfront costs of getting his license and didn’t terminate the employee on the day it found out about his suspended license, the employee is entitled to the unemployment claim.

Case Background

Lentz was a full-time employee with Home Security for three-and-a-half years and was terminated on Dec. 3, 2010 for not maintaining a valid license. His license had been suspended in November, and Home Security found out from its insurance company on Nov. 19, 2010. Lentz immediately began the process for license reinstatement.

Home Security told the employee to come in for an assessment and that he would have to complete the Substance Abuse Traffic Offender Program (SATOP) before his license could be valid again. Lentz said he didn’t have the money for the program, so Home Security agreed to pay for the program up front and that it would take the charge from Lentz’s paycheck in increments. The program was first acknowledged by both Lentz and Home Security as being a one-weekend class for $175.

Meanwhile, Home Security found other work for Lentz since he could not drive out to jobs; he often served as a secondary worker for jobs needing two people and was given office work. Lentz completed his SATOP class on Nov. 24. However, after receiving his evaluation, Lentz was informed that he would have to take an additional four-week SATOP class, pushing the date in which he would get his license back to Jan. 4, 2011.

Home Security agreed again to pay for the class up front. However, on Dec. 3, Lentz received a notice that he was terminated from the job effective immediately. Lentz applied for unemployment but Home Security contested the claim, arguing that because the employee failed to maintain a valid license, he had not rights to unemployment benefits. The Missouri Division of Employment Security investigated and said that Lentz had “voluntarily quit without good cause.”

On appeal, however, the Court found that because Home Security did not terminate Lentz on the day it found out about his suspended license and because the company found other work for the employee during this time and assisted him in reinstating his license, that the company’s claim that Lentz voluntarily quit was invalid. The Court opinion states:

“It was only when Employer learned it would take four weeks, rather than a weekend, for Employee to reinstate his driver’s license that Employer decided to terminate his employment. Therefore, the stated factual reason that Employee voluntarily quit because he failed to maintain a valid driver’s license is against the weight of the evidence in the record.”

(Click here for a PDF of the Court’s full opinion.)

- By Joanne M. Tucker

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