Friday, November 20, 2015

UC - voluntary quit - factual matrix at time of separation

Life Pittsburgh v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – November 20, 2015 – unpublished memorandum opinion

 Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) had good cause to quit her job after a series of incidents at work that caused her to have a reasonable fear for her health and safety.

 Factual matrix at time of separation cannot be arbitrarily restricted –  The factual matrix at the time of separation determines whether claimant had good cause to quit.  in this case, that  included not only the last incident but several in the month prior to claimant’s voluntary quit, all of which she had addressed with the employer.  Cf., Hussey Copper Ltd. v. UCBR, 718 A.2d 894 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998).   The events leading to claimant’s resignation took place over a relatively short period of time, and claimant did seek to remedy the problems through available channels. Cf., Umedman v. UCBR, 52 A.3d 558, 564 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012). 

The last incident was not by itself the precipitating event for her resignation, but the culmination of a pattern of events that produced real and substantial pressure upon Claimant and which Employer failed to address. Collier Stone Co. v. UCBR, 876 A.2d 481, 485 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005).  The claimant need not notify the employer of each and every incident so long as a claimant has given the employer the opportunity to understand the problem and take steps to resolve it.  Moreover, the Board’s consideration of recent events, not just the last one, goes directly to the claimant’s burden to demonstrate that she made a reasonable effort to maintain employment by advising Employer of the conditions of her employment putting her at risk, that she provided Employer with the opportunity to resolve the problems, and that Employer failed to do so.

The purpose of the rule that the Board restrict itself to the “factual matrix at the time of separation,” is to prohibit both parties from introducing into the Board’s inquiry events, facts or issues from the entirety of the employment relationship regardless of how irrelevant or removed from the time of separation. Hussey, 718 A.2d at 900; Lehigh County Community College v. UCBR, 473 A.2d 727, 729-730 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984).  Under Employer’s interpretation of the rule, which would focus only on the events immediately preceding termination from employment, claimants and employers would be severely inhibited in their ability to satisfy or rebut their respective evidentiary burdens by an arbitrarily restrictive temporal window. Employer’s interpretation would also bar claimants from receiving unemployment compensation who have a necessitous and compelling cause to leave employment based upon a pattern of harassment. [citations omitted]

Substantial evidence supported Board’s findings that claimant had good cause to quit
The facts found by the Board show that claimant was threatened, attempted to seek assistance from employer to address the threats, and that employer failed to provide adequate assistance or support to Claimant. Each fact is supported by substantial evidence in the form of claimant’s credible testimony, which was unrebutted by the employer. 
Claimant’s belief that her working conditions were unsafe was not speculative. Compare Green Tree School, 982 A.2d at 578 (subjective fear that autistic students may become unruly with a reduced behavioral management staff was insufficient to establish real, objective safety fears); Hoy, 391 A.2d at 1145 (claimants’ concern for their safety was real and substantial where employer failed to institute adequate safety measures at convenience store following string of robbery-homicides at similar businesses in the area); Rapid Pallet v. UCBR, 707 A.2d 636, 638 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998) (faulty condition of employer’s truck constituted safety concerns that created real and substantial pressure to resign from employment). The Board did not err in concluding that Claimant satisfied her burden to demonstrate cause of a necessitous and compelling nature to voluntarily resign her employment.
An unreported case may not be cited “binding precedent” but can be cited “for its persuasive value. . . .”  See 210 Pa. Code § 69.414 (a) and Pa. R.A.P.  3716 [45 Pa.B. 3975; Saturday, July 25, 2015]
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