Friday, January 06, 2012

UC - vol. quit - firm offer of new job - temp. v. permanent

Solar Innovations v. UCBR - January 5, 2012 - Cmwlth. Court (2-1)

Although an employee who resigns from employment to accept a "firm offer" of employment elsewhere may be eligible for UC benefits when the second job proves to be unavailable, Empire Intimates v. UCBR, 655 A.2d 662 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1995), this is not what occurred here. The second job did not become unavailable to Claimant; it simply ran the course expected of a temporary contract job with a finite period of employment.

The issue presented here appears to be one of first impression5—whether one can quit a stable, full-time, non-temporary job and accept a temporary job, yet remain eligible for UC benefits when the temporary job foreseeably ends, as it did in this case after approximately one month.

Here, the Board found that Claimant‟s employment with Staffing Agency was “temporary, between one and six months.” The Board additionally found that “[t]his assignment could be followed by another.”

"It is well-established that . . . „the receipt and acceptance of a firm offer of employment does constitute termination for cause of a necessitous and compelling nature.‟" Township of North Huntingdon, 450 A.2d at 769 (quoting Steinberg v. UCBR, 383 A.2d 1284, 1286 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1978)). "The offer of employment, however, must be definite," Id. at 769 (citing Baron v. UCBR, 384 A.2d 271, 272 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1978)), and "the claimant must act prudently with regard to his employer." Id. (citing UCBR v. Pennsylvania Power and Light Co., 351 A.2d 698, 699 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1976)). "[T]he mere possibility of obtaining another job is insufficient to establish that employment was terminated for good cause." Id. In addition, although "the claimant may have personal, economic, or career reasons for making h[is] decision to leave the employer . . . that does not constitute a necessitous and compelling cause for voluntarily quitting." Empire Intimates, 655 A.2d at 665.

The Board cites Brennan v. UCBR, 504 A.2d 432, 433 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1986) and Antonoff v. UCBR, 420 A.2d 800, 801 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980), are distinguishable; neither involved a claimant quitting non-temporary employment to take a new position known to be temporary at the time of quitting.

Here, as in Empire Intimates, the ultimate unavailability of work for Claimant was the result of Claimant‟s personal choice. Instead of remaining at his full-time, non-temporary position with Employer, Claimant chose to accept a temporary job with Staffing Agency, which ended within the period of time the position was expected to end, sometime between one and six months. The offer and acceptance of a known temporary position is not akin to situations where a claimant is offered non-temporary, but part-time, work that subsequently becomes unexpectedly unavailable; rather, it is more like quitting a full-time, non-temporary position in favor of a seasonal position of limited duration. The claimant in the former situation is eligible for benefits, Brennan, 504 A.2d at 433; the claimant in the latter situation is not. Luongo v. UCBR, 190 A.2d 344, 346 (Pa. Super. 1963) (holding that quitting a full-time position to work a seasonal position.

Claimant accepted the temporary position with Staffing Agency believing that, after the first position ended, there was a possibility of future assignments through Staffing Agency. The mere possibility that other assignments could become available “is insufficient to constitute good cause for voluntarily terminating one‟s employment.” Pennsylvania Power and Light, 351 A.2d at 699. To establish eligibility for UC benefits pursuant to Section 402(b) of the Law, the claimant must show that he acted with ordinary common sense and made a reasonable effort to preserve his employment. Brunswick Hotel & Conference Center, 906 A.2d at 660.

We conclude that Claimant‟s actions here are imprudent where he quit his regular, non-temporary job in exchange for a temporary job of fixed duration. Thus, as we did in Pennsylvania Power and Light, we conclude that Claimant‟s actions do not “demonstrat[e] that [he acted] with ordinary common sense and prudence,” Id. at 699, or that he made a reasonable effort to preserve his employment.

Dissent - Just because a job is temporary does not mean that a claimant is not entitled to unemployment compensation. According to the Law, a claimant is eligible for unemployment compensation benefits provided he "earned no less than $50 for at least 16 weeks during the five calendar quarters preceding the first day of the claimant’s unemployment." Earnest v. UCBR, 30 A.3d 1249, 1254 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011) (citing Section 404(c) of the Law, 43 P.S. §804(c)). This financial eligibility provision does not distinguish between permanent and temporary employment. I do not believe that an employee becomes ineligible for unemployment compensation simply because he leaves full-time employment for other work as employees are free to change jobs in order to, inter alia, reduce the total number of hours worked or change shifts. See Baldwin-Whitehall School District v. UCBR, 848 A.2d 1021 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004). The permanent or temporary nature of the employment does not change the fact that Claimant was laid off through no fault of his own. Given the fact that employment is typically "at will," Claimant’s situation is no different than if he had accepted a "permanent" position with another employer but was laid off after only one month due to lack of work.