Tuesday, August 16, 2005

UC - vol. quit - reduced pay - efforts to maintain employment; timeliness of appeal; duty of referee

Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter v. UCBR - Commonwealth Court, August 16, 2005 http://www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/CWealth/out/421CD05_8-16-05.pdf

Claimant held ineligible for UC benefits where she quit without taking "all necessary and reasonable steps to preserve the employment relationship."

Claimant worked at a retail store for a salary of $30,000/year, plus bonus payments based on store profits. The claimant resigned when the employer (ER) proposed to stop the bonus payments, which claimant allged were about $18,000/year.

voluntary quit - The employer had proposed then backed off on similar proposals several times before. Each time, claimant had been able to get the ER to change its mind and get the bonus payments restored. In this last instance, however, she made no attempt to do so. She did not protest and in fact worked for another two months before submitting her resignation, giving two weeks' notice with no explanation for her action. The court said that under these circumstances, claimant had not taken all necessary and reasonable steps to keep her job.

duty of referee to develop record and aid unrepresented parties
In n. 3, the Court noted that although it was not an issue in the case, it "wish[ed] to highlight to importance of the referee's responsibility udner 34 Pa. Code 101.21" to unrepresented parties by advisiing them of their rights, aiding in the examination of witness and gving "every assistance compatible with the impartial discharge of the referee's official duties. This provisions requires the referee to participate in the hearing in a manner and to the extent necessary for the facts of the case to be adequately developed, ensuring that" benefits will not be paid if the claimant is not eligible and will be paid "if the facts, thoroughly developed, entitle the claimant to benefits."

Where there is an unrepresented party, the referee's role is semi-inquisitorial, as in disability cases. Sims v. Apfel, 503 U.S. 103, 111 (2000) (Social Security proceedings are "inquisitorial rather than adversarial. It is the ALJ's duty to investigate the facts and develop the arguments both for and against granting benefits, and the Council's review is similarly broad.")

timeliness of the appeal -- Due to referee error, the envelope contained claimant's appeal was lost and not part of record. Claimant and her husband testfiied that she mailed the appeal in a timely way, but couldn’t produce any documentary proof. The Court rejected the ER's argument that the UCBR was strictly bound by the requirements of 34 Pa. Code 101.82(b)(1), which allows for documentary proof and says that absent such proof, the filing date will be the one recorded by the Department when it receives the appeal. In this case, the date received was after the appeal limit. The court held that since claimant's inability to prove timeliness was "due soley to the referee's failure to retain Claimant original envelope or date-stamp Claimant's appeal, it was proper for the UCBR to consider the testimony of Claimant and her husband to determine that the appeal was timely filed."

Donald Marritz, staff attorney
MidPenn Legal Services - Gettysburg