The following is the letter I submitted to the Employment Development Department after my unemployment insurance claim was denied.
December 12, 2005
Employment Development Department
San Francisco Adjudication
P.O. Box 7013
San Francisco, CA 94120-7013
I am writing to appeal the Employment Development Department (EDD) decision made December 8, 2005, in regards to my disqualification for benefits, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to provide details that I hope will reverse the ruling of my ineligibility.
I disagree with the EDD’s decision to deny my claim because “of actions which annoyed my coworkers.” I believe responsibility for my termination lies not solely with myself and what I wrote in my personal online journal (weblog or blog), but equally with my employer who was vague in its disciplinary language, irresponsible in abiding by proper employee punishment procedures, and reprehensibly lax in instituting a policy on employee weblogs that very well could have provided important direction and standards.
Almost two years ago, in January 2004, I expressed on my personal weblog the dismay I felt following the theft of a $300 personal item that had been delivered to my employer the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) by United Parcel Service, signed for, and then inexcusably left unsecured and unattended long enough for it to be stolen.
A short period later I was called into GLAZA President Connie Morgan’s office, shown copies of what I had posted and verbally reprimanded for publicly denigrating the zoo and GLAZA as institutions. I defended my diminished opinion of GLAZA for its failure to take responsibility for my loss as well as my right to express myself, and while Morgan said she could appreciate my point of view she nevertheless ordered the removal of the online material in question. She stopped short of demanding that I quit blogging entirely, but told me I was never to write about the zoo again “or that would be it!”
I complied with her immediate verbal demands, and as evidenced by the lack of any additional disciplining in the almost two years hence did my best to do so over the long term as well. In fact, I considered the post I made this past October — for which I was fired — not to have been in violation. Whereas my post of January 2004 focused on the zoo and GLAZA as entities, my October post was extremely dissimilar in reflecting personally on the two-year anniversary of an individual’s decision to suddenly and hurtfully dissolve a close friendship. That person wasn’t even a coworker of mine at GLAZA, but instead a city employee so far removed from me that there had been no contact between us during the two years since the friendship was ended.
Regardless, on November 14 — a full month and a half after the post — I was called into President Connie Morgan’s office, presented with printouts of the post and dismissed for allegedly violating the verbal warning not to write about the zoo. There was little consideration for my defense, scant opportunity for discussion and absolutely no opportunity for resolution.
While I take full responsibility for what I wrote, it is my contention that my termination resulted not from my “actions” as much as from the inactions and inefficiencies of GLAZA and its leadership:
• After my first disciplinary meeting in January 2004 I was not provided with any written assessment or specific definition detailing the meeting or what had been agreed upon.
• In the wake of that discipline GLAZA had the opportunity and responsibility to institute a specific company-wide addition to the employee handbook in regards to employee communications and blogging, but failed to do so.
Had GLAZA done either or both at the very least I would have been entirely aware of what specifically was and wasn’t permissible. Instead GLAZA left me stuck in a defenseless gray area where it could arbitrarily decide what conformed and what didn’t.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT BLOGGING
When I contacted the EDD on December 7 for the required telephone inquisition, the interviewer interjected his opinion at the end stating somewhat condescendingly that I might want to quit blogging. I believe that to be a very shortsighted point of view. The world of weblogs is a brave new one and one I hope will not be made to unduly suffer the insufficiencies and fears of employers. I believe there can be a middle ground achieved and one that will protect employers and their employees who blog. Such a balance could have been achieved between me and my former employer with a few clearly stated rules. But instead GLAZA has lost the dedicated, high-performing asset of almost six years that I was and perpetuated a disturbing inflexibility and fallibility.
The end result for me is that I am not only out of work two weeks before Christmas, but now have been denied my rightful benefits because the EDD’s contention is that I was discharged for misconduct. I contend that what I was fired for was never clearly defined or stated by GLAZA as misconduct, nor did GLAZA follow the recognized chain of disciplinary actions that would have helped direct me from such an intolerant determination. Thus I say the misconduct lies with GLAZA’s casual and undocumented handling of these matters. Had GLAZA been more formal and proactive I would still be a productive and enthusiastic employee.
At the very least, so summarily dismissed as a result of such a careless organizational attitude and approach, I deserve a reversal of the EDD’s decision to deny me my unemployment benefits.
I appreciate your taking the time to read this and I thank you for your consideration. I anxiously wait your reply.
UPDATE (Feb. 9, 2006): A hearing was scheduled and took place January 24 at the downtown Los Angeles offices of the EDD Appeals Board in front of Judge J.L. Zwick. On January 31 I received notification that my appeal had been successful and the department’s initial determination to decline my benefits had been reversed.
In his statement, judge Zwick ruled that the remarks I made on my website “did not go beyond the usual give and take between employees in an industrial establishment and was not misconduct.”
“In this case,” Zwick concluded,” “the claimant did not post anything derogative of the zoo on the zoo’s website in October 2005. In fact, the previous article he wrote in january 2004 as well as the article in October 2005 were on his personal website. The final incident involved the claimant criticizing a co-employee regarding personal problems between them. The claimant did not in his article criticize the zoo in any manner. Therefore it is held that the employer has not sustained their burden of proof to show a willful or wanton disregard of the employer’s interests on the part of the claimant. Therefore it is held that the claimant was discharged for reasons other than misconduct connected with his last employment under section 1256 of the code.”
I received my back benefits checks February 8.