Unemployment Compensation

By Andrea R. Ostapowich 
Bertelson Law Offices, P.A.Following are the published opinions involving unemployment compensation from August 1, 2012, through November 13, 2012. All three opinions involve employees who quit their employment.Timing of Quitting

Wiley v. Dolphin Staffing – Dolphin Clerical Group, 2012 WL 5476134, A12-0383 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 13, 2012): Under Minnesota Statutes, section 268.095, subdivision 1(3) (2010), an employee who gives notice of quitting to an employer in advance of separating from employment is deemed to have quit at the time she provides notice of quitting.

Relator began working for the employer on August 11, 2011. On September 8, 2011, her thirtieth day with the employer, Relator gave two weeks notice of quitting. Her last scheduled day of employment was September 23. Relator later requested that she be allowed to withdraw her notice of quitting. The employer confirmed that her notice to quit had been accepted and that her last day of work would be September 23.

Relator applied for unemployment benefits. DEED determined that she was ineligible for benefits. Relator appealed. After the hearing, the ULJ determined that Relator did not qualify for benefits under any exception, including the “30-day unsuitability exception.” DEED determined that Relator had “quit” as of the date of her last scheduled work day, September 23, which was beyond the 30 days.

Section 268.095, subdivision 2(c) provides that an employee who seeks to withdraw a previously submitted notice of quitting is considered to have quit if the employer refuses to allow withdrawal of that notice. The court noted that the statute does not define when a quit occurs—whether it is upon notice, when withdrawal of notice is refused, or on the last day of employment. The court found that the statute was ambiguous because the language was subject to more than one interpretation. The court looked at legislative intent and section 268.031, subdivision 2, which requires the court to construe and apply the unemployment benefit statutes “in favor of awarding unemployment benefits.”

The court construed the thirty-day unsuitability exception as allowing an employee thirty days to decide if the employment was unsuitable. Therefore, for the purposes of the thirty-day exception, an employee who gives notice in advance of separating from employment is deemed to have quit at the time of notice.

No Duty to Complain Before Quitting Employment

Thao v. Command Center, Inc., 2012 WL 5188032, A12-0068 (Minn. Ct. App. Oct. 22, 2012): When the employer unilaterally and substantially decreases the employee’s hours of work, an employee has no duty to first complain to the employer about a reduction in hours and allow the employer an opportunity to correct the problem before the reduction in hours will be deemed to be a good reason to quit caused by the employer.

Relator was hired as an employee of a temporary agency that provided temporary labor staffing for businesses. She was employed for a total of five weeks. Relator was assigned to primarily work with one client, which had a contract with temporary workers. Relator’s job included recruiting temporary employees to fulfill the client’s employment needs.

When Relator was hired, she testified that she was told she would work at least thirty-two hours per week and that her hours may possibly increase to forty hours per week. During her first few weeks of work, which included training, she worked nearly forty hours each week. However, in her last week of employment, the client cancelled its orders, and Relator’s hours were reduced to sixteen to twenty hours per week. The schedule for the following week had Relator working only eight to ten hours. Upon seeing this schedule, Relator quit without complaining to anyone at the employer about these reduced hours.

The court focused on the language of section 268.095, subdivision 1(1), which defines a good reason for quitting caused by the employer, and subsection 3(c), which states, “If an applicant was subjected to adverse working conditions by the employer, the applicant must complain to the employer and give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions before that may be considered a good reason caused by the employer.”The court did a lengthy analysis of what the word “conditions” means versus the word “terms,” which is not in the statute. Relator argued that a reduction in hours was a “term” of employment, rather than a “condition,” and therefore, subdivision 3(c) did not apply. DEED argued that “conditions” is a broad terms that includes a reduction in hours.Looking at both the common law and legislative history, the court concluded that “terms” and “conditions” are not synonymous. Working “conditions” are circumstances under which employees work, such as the social and physical environment, relationships with coworkers, and safety measures. “Terms” of employment includes compensation, and benefits, and hours. Because a reduction in hours is not a “condition” of employment, subdivision 3(c) does not apply. Relator was not required to first complain to the employer and allow it an opportunity to correct the adverse conditions before quitting.

Good Reason to Quit Where Employer Reduced Work Hours
Haugen v. Superior Development, Inc., 819 N.W.2d 715 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012): Relator had good reason to quit caused by the employer’s decision to reduce his work hours.

Relator worked for the employer for nearly three years, managing rental houses. Almost immediately after starting employment, his hours increased from twenty-eight hours per week to forty hours per week. In late 2010, his hours were reduced to thirty-two hours per week because the employer believed Relator could complete his duties in less time. However, Relator’s hours soon increased to forty per week. In late April 2011, the employer reduced Relator’s hours to twenty-four hours per week. Relator told the vice president of the company that he “didn’t think he could make it on twenty-four hours” per week. Two months later, Relator quit.

Section 268.095, subdivision 3 provides that a good reason to quit caused by the employer is one that is directly related to the employment, that is adverse to the employee, and that “would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed rather than remaining in employment.”

The court found that “[relator’s] drop from 40 hours to 24 hours is substantial enough to constitute a good reason to quit employment. It represents a 40-percent drop in weekly pay from $600 to $360. Even if [Relator] was working only 32 hours before the drop, the reduction in wages is still 25%, and it similarly constitutes a good reason to quit under the caselaw that binds our decision.”

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