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Nebraska Supreme Court

Nebraska Supreme Court rules in favor of worker seeking unemployment benefits

A former Omaha meatpacking plant employee who was denied unemployment benefits after he was fired because he refused to perform the job duties of two employees will likely receive unemployment benefits thanks to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

In ruling in his favor, the court in an opinion released Friday clarified what had only been implicit in other rulings: in a disputed claim for unemployment benefits where an employer claims a worker was fired because of misconduct, the employer has the burden of proving that misconduct

The employee, Saied Badawi, was working as a meat cutter at the JBS Swift Beef plant in Omaha for a year. That’s when one of the supervisors directed him to fill in for a co-worker because he was sick with COVID-19, aside from doing his job. When Badawi refused, he was suspended for a week.

Then, when he returned to work after a second suspension, he was informed that he was fired for insubordination. And Badawi applied for unemployment benefits through the Nebraska Department of Labor.

The department realized that Badawi had quit his job voluntarily and without a compelling reason and this resulted in his being denied unemployment benefits. He then appealed the decision to the Nebraska Court of Appeals.

At a court hearing, Badawi claimed that he was aware of the JBS policy that required employees to temporarily fill other positions if requested by the company. That he understood the requirement, but that it would have been impossible for him to do so. One of the JBS representatives did not show up for the hearing.

“They asked me to do two jobs, to work in my position and in another one,” Badawi testified through an Arabic interpreter.

The court concluded that Badawi did not quit his job voluntarily and, on the contrary, disqualified him from unemployment benefits on the grounds that refusing to work two jobs was misconduct. He appealed the court’s decision to the Douglas County District Court, and the District Court agreed with the court and found Badawi’s argument unpersuasive.

On appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, Badawi successfully argued that there was no compelling evidence to support such a claim that he was terminated for misconduct. The court found that there was no evidence to show JBS required an employee to work two jobs for two employees at the same time.

It also considered whether JBS’s request was reasonable. Since, to prove misconduct, an employer must show that the rule or policy was violated by the employee.

Since the transcript of the court hearing was full of imperceptible statements, the court determined that there was insufficient evidence to find that the request was reasonable.