v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court (en banc, 5-2) – January 14, 2015
quit his job when his employer unilaterally and without warning took away his
employer-provided transportation, which had a value of about $90 day, which was
about ½ of claimant’s earnings.
Court affirmed the UCBR’s denial of benefits, holding that the claimant had not
explored alternatives before quitting.
The Board also found that the claimant “could commute with the employer’s
director,” as he had done when he had first started working. This finding was based on testimony of the
employer’s manager that the director “can give you a ride home, you can, you
can figure out something else, but you’re just not going to do it on the
company dime anymore.” The Court found
that “the Board could logically and reasonably infer that Manager’s statement
that Claimant could get a ride home with Director was a suggestion to commute
with Director.” The court also upheld
the Board finding that Claimant had not explored alternative solutions to the transportation
problem and the loss of 50% of his earnings before quitting.
dissent (Leavitt and Pelligrini) thought that the employer statement just
concerned getting a ride home that single day, when claimant was at a work and
was “deprived on the means to return home.
After that, Claimant had to ‘figure out something else’ without any
financial support from Employer.” A
substantial reduction in pay constitutes a necessitous and compelling reason to
leave employment and, thus, does not affect eligibility for unemployment
compensation. A-Positive Electric v. Unemployment Compensation Board of
Review, 654 A.2d 299, 302 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1995). “[W]here an employee benefit
has special significance and intrinsic value to a claimant, an employer’s
unilateral alteration of that benefit and corresponding reduction in
compensation gives a claimant necessitous and compelling cause for terminating
employment.” Id. Because there is “no talismanic percentage” for
determining a substantial reduction, each case turns on its own circumstances. Id.
Vision Associates v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 624 A.2d
237, 238-39 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1993), six years after the claimant was hired, the
employer notified her that it would no longer reimburse her health insurance
premium of $235.16 per month. The loss of this reimbursement effected “a 14.2%
reduction in earned compensation.” Id. at 240. We held that “the
[e]mployer’s unilateral alteration of that benefit and corresponding reduction
in compensation” constituted a necessitous and compelling reason to quit. Id.
See also Chavez (Token) v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review,
738 A.2d 77, 82 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999); A-Positive, 654 A.2d at 302-03.
case, from the time of his initial hire in 2010 and throughout his employment
Employer assumed the cost of Claimant’s commute. Claimant’s evidence
established that the value of the Employer-provided vehicle, and reimbursement
of fuel and tolls was approximately $90 per day. Employer did not contest this figure. Claimant
established that his gross salary at the time of his separation was $176 per
eight-hour day. On Claimant’s claimant’s
last day of work, the employer unilaterally eliminated his commuting benefit
without warning. Employer offered no evidence that the loss of Claimant’s
benefit was negotiable or capable of revision.
was not obligated to continue working under Employer’s new terms. It is true,
as the majority notes, that a claimant seeking to establish a necessitous and
compelling reason for quitting must demonstrate, inter alia, that he
made a reasonable effort to preserve his employment. Brunswick Hotel &
Conference Center, LLC v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 906
A.2d 657, 660 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006). However, a unilateral reduction in
compensation in and of itself provides a necessitous and compelling
reason for quitting, if the reduction is substantial. See, e.g., Steinberg
Vision Associates, 624 A.2d 237; Morysville Body Works, Inc. v.
Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 430 A.2d 376 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1981)
(salary reduction of 25%); Ship Inn, Inc. v. Unemployment Compensation Board
of Review, 412 A.2d 913 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980) (claimant’s $67.80 weekly salary
reduced by $15). In these cases, this Court held that the claimants’ salary
reductions were substantial and provided a necessitous and compelling cause to
immediately quit. Claimant’s 50% reduction in compensation in the present case
should compel the same result.