Poking a coworker can potentially constitute employment misconduct and render an employee ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. The Minnesota Court of Appeals addressed this question in Potter v. Northern Empire Pizza, Inc., 805 N.W.2d 872 (Minn. Ct. App. 2011).
In Potter, the court emphasized that, while Minnesota law used to recognize an exception for a single “hotheaded” incident, that exception is no longer the law. Current Minnesota law “does not provide a single-incident exception” for employment misconduct determinations. The court further held that “angry physical contact between employees constituted employment misconduct regardless of frequency.” Accordingly, the employee’s single incident of poking another coworker constituted employment misconduct and rendered the employee ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Takeaway: Employers should not tolerate violence in the workplace. Even a single incident that does not result in any harm may be grounds for termination and may constitute employment misconduct under Minnesota law.