Thursday, March 03, 2011

UC - voluntary quit - retirement package - likelihood of layoff

Wright-Swygert v. UCBR - March 3, 2011 - Cmwlth. Court

In this case, the circumstances surrounding Claimant leaving her employment gave her the reasonable belief that she was going to be laid off; were as if she had been specifically told that she was going to lose her job; and were of a necessitous and compelling nature to accept the volutary early retirement package (VERP) and leave her employment.

First, Claimant alone was called into the Director’s office on two different occasions just weeks before the deadline for accepting the VERP. Each time was at the behest of the senior director telling the Director to speak to Claimant and question her as to whether she was going to accept the VERP. The discussion was a one-on-one discussion, not a general letter to all employees of the company, letting Claimant know that she should seriously consider accepting the VERP.

At the second meeting, when Claimant asked the Director if her job was going to be eliminated, he said “It doesn’t look good.” Claimant further testified regarding the Director: Claimant: ….. [H]e felt bad that he had to talk to me. He said…I didn’t feel comfortable talking to you about it. But the senior director said talk to her now. He then went on to give her the name of his financial person. Under those circumstances, Claimant was justified in believing that her layoff was likely to materialize and that her job was imminently threatened .

In determining whether a necessitous and compelling cause exists in the context of corporate downsizing, this Court in Renda v. UCBR, 837 A.2d 685 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003), held that the relevant inquiry is whether “the circumstances surrounding a claimant’s voluntary quit indicated a likelihood that fear about the employee’s employment would materialize, that serious impending threats to her job would be realized, and that her belief her job is imminently threatened is well-founded.” Id., 837 A.2d at 692. Citing Staub v. UCBR, 673 A.2d 434, 437 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1996), we went on to state:

“[S]peculation pertaining to an employer’s financial condition and future layoffs, however disconcerting, does not establish the requisite necessitous and compelling cause.” Staub, 673 A.2d at 437.4 [W]here at the time of retirement suitable continuing work is available, the employer states that a layoff is possible but not likely, and no other factors are found … that remove an employee’s beliefs from the realm of speculation, a claim for unemployment benefits fails despite the offer to leave. Id.


n.4 - We stated in Renda: [T]his court denied benefits where a claimant’s speculative concerns over future employment prompted her voluntary termination. Mansberg v. UCBR, 829 A.2d 1266 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003) (claimant voluntarily quit despite employer’s statement that lost jobs would be “filtered” to other sections of company); PECO Energy Co. v. UCBR, 682 A.2d 49 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1996) (claimant accepted early retirement package based on “postulations” of “what he felt could happen”); Staub (claimant accepted early retirement incentive based on his belief that employer’s “poor financial condition” would result in layoff); Dep’t of Navy v. UCBR,650 A.2d 1138 (Pa. Cmwlth 1994) (claimant “believed” his job would be eliminated); Peoples First Nat’l Bank v. UCBR, 632 A.2d 1014 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1993) (employer indicated a layoff was “possible,” but employer “didn’t think so”); Flannery v. UCBR, 557 A.2d 52 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1989) (claimant accepted advanced retirement package based on his belief layoff was “inevitable,” despite availability of continuing work). Renda, 837 A.2d at 692. In both Renda and Staub, the Referees found that the employers made continuing work available to the claimants.