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Legislature sustains veto of tighter unemployment rules

The Missouri Legislature failed to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of legislation that redefines misconduct and good cause to disqualify certain workers from getting unemployment benefits.

On Wednesday, the Senate sent Senate Bill 28 to the House after passing it over the governor’s veto on a 24-10 vote.

The House, however, failed to override Nixon’s veto of House Bill 611, which contained similar language. The override fell two votes short of the required two-thirds, at 107-54.

Both bills would have tightened up the definition of “misconduct” in state statute, specifying that fired workers could not get unemployment benefits if they violated an employer’s “no-call, no-show” policy, for instance. The law applies to off-the-job conduct as well as incidents at the workplace.

Nixon issued nearly identical veto letters against both bills on July 2.

“What employees do on their own time should not be used as a basis for denying unemployment benefits, except in the narrow circumstances already set forth in law,” he wrote. “And employers should not be encouraged to adopt unreasonable rules to use as a basis for denying unemployment benefits.”

As examples, Nixon said the bills would have denied benefits to a female employee whose employer finds a social media photo of her wearing an inappropriate costume; a single mother who skips the company softball game to care for her children; and a salesman overheard bad-mouthing his boss during his child’s soccer game.

Such workers can be fired under Missouri law, but Nixon said they should not be denied unemployment compensation as well.

The governor also contended in his letter that the law could cost Missouri an estimated $859 million annually in Federal Unemployment Tax Act credits that employers receive.

After the House failed to pass HB611, it declined to take up the Senate bill.

Associated Industries of Missouri supported the legislation and said in a statement on its website that it will attempt to pass a similar bill in the next session.

“Employers are paying unemployment claims for employees that have engaged in reckless, dangerous and ridiculous behavior, which is simply unacceptable,” Ray McCarty, president of AIM, said in a statement.