March 2017 Briefly: An Unemployment Case Analysis

Background

The claimant left voluntarily when she believed she had been discharged. She was allowed benefits upon a finding that she was separated for no disqualifying reason.  The employer appealed, and a hearing was scheduled before an administrative law judge.

At the Hearing

The Employer’s Evidence:  The employer testified that the claimant, a retail shift leader, had stopped reporting for work.  The claimant’s boyfriend had been banned from the store; however the night before the claimant’s last day of work, the boyfriend came to the store.  The claimant asked him to leave.  The next day, the claimant told her manager she wanted to quit due to work stress.  He convinced her to stay and take a different position.  The claimant’s manager heard later that day that the claimant’s boyfriend had been on the premises.  He tried to call her to discuss it, but had to leave a voice message.  A peer of the claimant also sent her a Facebook message and asked her not to come to work, but to call instead.  The claimant responded to the Facebook message that her keys and uniform were in her locker.  The employer heard nothing else from the claimant, and she never reported back to work.  The employer assumed she had quit.
The Claimant’s Evidence: The claimant testified that she forgot to tell her manager that her boyfriend had come to the store.  When she saw the Facebook message that she was to call the store instead of report for her shift, she figured she had been fired.  The claimant responded that her keys and uniform were in her locker because she knew that if she had been discharged she would have been required to return both items.  She testified that she did not intend the message to be her resignation.

The Hearing Decision

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that the claimant quit voluntarily without good cause connected with the work, and she was disqualified from benefits. The ALJ found that the claimant had voluntarily quit due to personal reasons because she unreasonably believed she’d been discharged.  Her belief was unreasonable because no member of management had told her she’d been fired.  The claimant put forward no reason for leaving which would be good cause connected with the work.  The claimant disagreed and appealed, arguing that she reasonably believed that she had been fired when she was told not to go to work but to call instead.

The Board of Review Decision

The Board of Review (The Board) agreed with the ALJ’s decision and the decision remained in effect.  The Board found that the ALJ’s decision that the claimant had left voluntarily was reasonably based on the record of evidence.  The Board had no reason to overturn the ALJ’s findings of fact or conclusions of law.

Takeaways

  1. The first finding that must be made in a hearing on the claimant’s separation from employment is the nature of the separation.  In most cases, this is not in dispute.  In this case, the employer believed the claimant had resigned, and the claimant believed she had been fired.  The ALJ was charged with determining which was correct before deciding whether the separation was disqualifying. In similar cases, be prepared to present evidence regarding any decisions that had been made about the claimant’s employment, and evidence regarding your belief that she had quit voluntarily.  A key witness would be the claimant’s manager in case the claimant changes her story at hearing.
  2. The claimant’s belief that she had been discharged must have been reasonable.  In this case, the claimant’s belief was based on an unreturned voice message from her manager and a Facebook message from a peer asking her not to go into work.  A discharge from employment is a significant event. Claimants in similar situations must generally have made an effort to reach someone in their management chain or Human Resources to determine whether a discharge has actually occurred.  A claimant who does not, and who acts on assumptions that are based on statements made by people outside of her management chain, is generally going to be disqualified from benefits.

To learn how Equifax can help your organization with hearings support and unemployment cost management, contact Pete Krieshok at pete.krieshok@equifax.com.

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About Peg Elofson

Peg oversees our Unemployment Hearing Consultants. She has more than 15 years of experience in the unemployment industry, with particular focus in unemployment appeals. Her experience includes account management, hearing representation, and Board of Review appeals. Peg joined Equifax through the acquisition of TALX Corporation in 2007. She holds BSBA and JD degrees from Creighton University.