UC - voluntary quit, sec. 402(b) - vol. layoff - claimant not ineligible under Diehl rationale
Naval Surface Warfare Center v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – December 12, 2014
The Diehl Court stressed that Section 402(b) establishes an exclusionary rule for claimants who have left employment without a necessitous and compelling reason, but that the VLO Provision is an eligibility carve-out from this disqualification provision that must be construed broadly in favor of the claimant seeking unemployment compensation. Diehl, 57 A.3d at 1221. Looking at the VLO language as a whole, the Court stated that “the VLO Proviso applies to employees accepting employer offered early retirement packages as part of a labor force reduction, because such programs are merely a different way to accomplish the workforce reduction of a layoff.” Id. at 1222.
The Commonwealth Court rejected the employer's argument that unemployment compensation benefits are only available when employment is terminated due to a RIF (reduction in force), as opposed to a VERA (voluntary early retirement authority). This interpretation of the Law conflicts with the plain language of the VLO Provision and was unequivocally rejected in Diehl, where the Supreme Court overruled Commonwealth Court precedent and made clear that the VLO Provision applies when a layoff is voluntary. Id. at 1221.
Following Diehl, the issue of whether the separation was forced and whether a claimant’s decision was motivated by an objective fear that if the voluntary offer was not taken the separation from employment could later lead to a termination of employment, are not determinative of whether a claimant is eligible for UC benefits under the VLO Provision. Instead, the focus is on whether the facts demonstrate that the separation was due to a claimant’s acceptance of a “layoff.”
In the instant matter, the evidence demonstrated that the offer of early retirement was initiated at the will of Employer and accepted by Claimant, that Claimant accepted the offer from an available position, and that the early retirement offer was made pursuant to a plan established by Employer. (R. Item 17, Board H.T. at 7, 8-9.) This evidence, along with the evidence that Claimant was “otherwise eligible,” created a presumption that Claimant was eligible for unemployment compensation under the VLO Provision. Diehl, 57 A.3d at 1222. The burden then shifted to Employer to demonstrate that the early retirement offer was not a “layoff.” Employer failed to carry this burden.
The evidence in the record "clearly supports the Board’s determination that the practical effect of Employer’s plan was a layoff of Claimant. Employer’s witness testified that under the VERA plan, employees in various positions “were identified as the starting point for a restructuring effort within [Employer’s] organization,” as “surplus or positions that were no longer needed in the workforce.”