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16. Was the Rule Reasonable?

ALERT:   IN LIGHT OF THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, ASPECTS OF THE UI PROCESS HAVE BEEN MODIFIED.  VISIT https://www.masslegalservices.org/covid-19-and-ui FOR CURRENT INFORMATION.

The rule or policy must be reasonable in light of an employer’s interest—i.e., there must be a clear relationship between the rule or policy and the employer’s stake in it, and it must be one that could be expected to be adhered to in the normal course of events. A rule that conflicts with or violates any legal right of the employee is per se unreasonable. AH c 8, § 1C.2.a. The reasonableness of a rule must be evaluated in light of a claimant’s protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, and other state and federal laws protecting workplace rights. AH c. 8, § 1C.2a and c. 8 Appendix.

The application of the rule must also be reasonable. Thus, a rule is not reasonably applied where there are circumstances of an “unusual nature.” AH c. 8, § 1D. Examples of such circumstances include the following:

  • serious weather‑related problems
  • unavoidable transportation problems
  • contradictory supervisory rules
  • family emergencies, such as illness, that may lead to a violation of absence or tardiness rules. To the extent that extensive absences are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. (FMLA), the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act, G.L. c. 149, § 105D, the Massachusetts Domestic Violence Leave Act, G.L. c. 149, § 52E; the Small Necessities Leave Act, c. 149 § 52D; and the Earned Sick Time Law, G.L. c. 149, § 148C, they are generally not disqualifying for UI purposes as long as the claimant made a reasonable effort to preserve employment unless the attempt would have been futile. AH c. 7, § 4B.
  • rules that regulate an employee’s conduct outside the workplace
  • adherence to rules that could result in injury to the health or safety of an individual
  • compliance with rules that would violate federal or state law, public policy, or ethical or professional standards
  • inability to comply with the rule due to circumstances resulting from domestic violence. G.L. c. 151A, § 25(e), ¶2; AH c. 6, § 3
  • any other objectively verifiable circumstances of an unusual or urgent and compelling nature, with which the claimant could not reasonably be expected to comply

Where a claimant refused to sign a memo concerning the employer’s time card because she believed there was an error regarding her time worked on her paycheck, the Board of Review ruled the employer discharged the claimant, but the discharge was not for knowing violation of a reasonably and uniformly enforced rule or policy; the policy, though facially benign, was “implemented in an unreasonable way,” making the discharge unreasonable. BR - 0013 6849 13 (6/8/15). Other instances where the Board has found a rule unreasonable include where a “no contact” rule was overbroad, BR-0020 9459 20 (12/27/17) (Key); a submission to a Fitness for Duty examination was based solely on the use of an over-the-counter hemp cream to relieve chronic knee pain, BR-0023 4482 89 (9/27/18) (Key); and a highly experienced nurse was ordered not to discuss with coworkers her discipline for objecting to a protocol concerning a highly contagious resident, BR-0015 7381 34 (12/23/15) (Key).