An Illinois court has recently helped companies that require employees to sign employment contracts containing provisions allowing terminations "for cause." See Jason Selch v. Columbia Management, et al., 2012 IL App (1st) 111434 (Aug. 29, 2012). Selch's employment agreement with the company gave the company the right to terminate Selch for "engaging in misconduct that injures the company." After the company terminated one of Selch's friends, he walked into a conference room, confronted two of his supervisors and "proceeded to unbuckle his pants, pull them down and ‘moon' [the supervisors]."
Did Selch engage in misconduct that "injures" the company? Selch argued that he did not "injure" the company, because his conduct was not "serious." However, the word "serious" did not appear as a modifier of the word "injures" in the employment agreement. The company argued that Selch impugned the status and credibility of managers, disregarded the company's interests in maintaining an orderly work environment, wasted the company's resources in addressing his conduct and caused the company to terminate a valuable employee, i.e., Selch. The judge agreed with the company and dismissed Selch's suit. The judge interpreted "injures" broadly by first citing the definition of cause under the unemployment compensation law as the "deliberate and willful violation of a reasonable rule." The judge relied upon the rule, prohibiting insubordination in the employee handbook. Insubordination was defined as "disruptive, unruly or abusive behavior." Thus, Selch "undercut" the authority of his bosses and disregarded the company's policies, injuring the company.