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FedEx driver fired for DUI denied unemployment benefits

Many drunk drivers have learned the hard way that the penalties for a DUI can result in court-imposed jail sentences and fines, but not many realize that it can also make them ineligible to  receive unemployment insurance. That’s just what happened to Mr. Alan G. Roche of New Jersey last month, who was fired from his job at FedEx because of his DUI. An appellate court recently upheld the decision of the state’s review board denying his claim for unemployment benefits because he “left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work.”

Mr. Roche was cited for DUI in February, 2008 while driving his personal vehicle outside of work hours and according to FedEx’s policy, any driver who does not clear a DUI charge from their record with 3 months must either find other employment with the company that does not require driving or be fired. FedEx put Mr.Roche on unpaid leave for 3 months, but Mr. Roche had not cleared the charge by May. When he asked if there were other jobs he could d0 that didn’t require driving, he  was told that FedEx did not have any open positions so he was fired in June.

Mr. Roche applied for unemployment benefits in New Jersey in July, but was denied.  The state review board said that a precedent from Yardville Supply Co. v. Board of Review, 114 N.J. 371 (1989), a New Jersey Supreme Court case from 1989, required them to deny Mr. Roche’s claim. In Yardville, the court considered the case of a truck driver who had lost his driver’s license and was fired. That court decided that unemployment benefits were only available to employees who were unemployed through no fault of their own, and the driver was at fault because he had risked the license necessary for him to do his job by drinking and driving.

In Mr. Roche’s case, his driving privileges were still valid at the end of the 3 month interval outlined in FedEx’s policy, but because the DUI charge itself had not been cleared, the policy still required him to be terminated. He ultimately pled guilty to the charge and lost his license for three months. Last month, in the case of Roche v. Board of Review, No. A-2414-08T3 (N.J.A.D. 2010), the court decided that, like the driver in the Yardville case, the underlying cause of Mr. Roche’s termination was a DUI and therefore he was at fault for being unemployed.

This case raises interesting legal questions, such as what might have happened if Mr. Roche had ultimately been acquitted of the charges against him, but until such questions are answered, cases like Mr. Roche’s should give New Jersey drivers one more reason to think before they drink.

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