October 2016 Briefly: An Unemployment Case Analysis
The claimant left work voluntarily, citing dissatisfaction with the working conditions. He was allowed benefits upon a finding that he quit with good cause connected with the work. The employer appealed, and a hearing was scheduled before an administrative law judge.
At the Hearing
The Claimant’s Evidence: The claimant testified that he left voluntarily because he felt harassed due to his gender, religion, and national origin. He testified that he believed that due to his religion, he was given work assignments others were not required to do. He testified that after a coworker asked for his country of origin, and he answered, she told him not to run a cleaning machine into a wall. He also testified to several incidents with female coworkers who he alleged tickled him, called him “dear,” asked him if he was Mr. Right, and otherwise made him feel uncomfortable. He testified that the stress from the incidents caused him health issues but he did not visit a doctor.
The Employer’s Evidence: The employer testified that the claimant offered his resignation due to health concerns. He was offered a leave of absence but failed to respond to the offer. The claimant had reported that he believed one work assignment was given to him due to his religion, but the work assignment was clearly within his job responsibilities. Months later, the claimant reported some concerns regarding his coworkers’ behavior. The employer investigated, and informed the claimant that they believed the behavior was not intentionally harassing and the conflicts were due to perception issues. Subsequently, the employer informed him they had trained his coworkers about cultural differences. He reported no other problems. Just prior to quitting, he requested part time work due to health. He was offered a part time position with the same manager and pay, but different duties and significantly less contact with his coworkers. He refused.
The Hearing Decision
The Administrative Law Judge found that the claimant quit without good cause and the decision allowing benefits was reversed. The ALJ found that the claimant’s reason for leaving was not good cause because he failed to prove that he was being treated differently due to his religion or national origin, and because he failed to take advantage of the options offered by the employer before quitting. The claimant disagreed and appealed, arguing that the only option available to him was not tenable because he would work with the same supervisor, and that the working conditions were intolerable for him specifically because he experienced health issues due to the working conditions.
The Board of Review Decision
The Board of Review affirmed the Administrative Law Judge’s decision and found that it was fully supported by the hearing record. The claimant failed to prove that the working conditions were objectively intolerable, he failed to prove his work caused his health problems, and failed to prove that he had no option other than leaving work. The disqualification remained in effect.
- The claimant’s perception of the working conditions is relevant in voluntary quit cases but must be objectively assessed. In this case, the claimant’s belief that the working conditions were intolerable was not objectively verifiable. If a claimant makes a complaint and an investigation reveals nothing verifiable, be prepared to testify regarding the investigation and the actions you took. An argument could be made that a reasonable worker in the same situation would not have found the working conditions so intolerable as to compel him to leave work.
- Efforts you make to address the claimant’s concerns are relevant and should be presented at hearing. In this case, the employer offered the claimant a transfer, as he requested, and also offered a leave of absence to accommodate his health concerns. In this case, the employer was able to prove not only that they addressed the claimant’s concerns by educating his coworkers on cultural differences, but was also able to prove the claimant had two reasonable alternatives to leaving work. Even if the claimant had been able to prove he had been harassed due to his gender, religion, or national origin, his failure to accept one of the reasonable alternatives would likely have negated the good cause he would have had to leave work.
In this month’s case, the claimant quit work, claiming intolerable working conditions caused by harassment. He was ultimately disqualified from benefits. In the September 2016 issue of Briefly, a claimant quit due to intolerable working conditions caused by his coworkers but was allowed benefits. Click here to review that case and gain insight into what states consider good cause to leave work in similar conditions.
Click here to download a PDF version of this bulletin.
To learn how Equifax can help your organization with unemployment claims management, contact Pete Krieshok at pete.krieshok@Equifax.com.
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