Saturday, September 09, 2017

UC - vol. quit - follow-the-spouse - maintenance of family unit alone not good cause

Rodriguez v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – September 7, 2017 (2-1 decision)

Held:  A desire to maintain the family unit, alone, is insufficient to establish a necessary and compelling reason to leave employment. Schecter v. UCBR, 491 A.2d 938, 941 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1985).

Claimant and children moved from Pa. to Florida to join her husband, who had been awarded a full-scholarship to a theological school, conditioned on his move to Florida with his entire family.  Husband testified that “there was a good prospect of full-time employment as a minister following the completion of the ministerial program” and that he would receive a  bachelor’s degree when he finished.   Husband was “ able to maintain some level of employment as a truck driver in Pa. but was unable to obtain a permanent position.   His job possibilities were limited by a past criminal conviction.  His relocation to Florida was not done in order to accept an offer of employment in a highly-specialized field with a limited job market or because his job was going to be eliminated.   He had no firm job offer contingent on his completing the schooling in Florida.

“Under the “follow-the-spouse” doctrine, a claimant’s burden is two-fold. Wheeler v. UCBR, 450 A.2d 775, 778 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1982). First, the claimant must establish that the move created insurmountable commuting problems or that maintaining two residences would result in economic hardship. Glen Mills, 665 A.2d at 564. Under the second inquiry, the claimant must also demonstrate that circumstances beyond the control of the claimant’s spouse caused the necessity to relocate, the decision was reasonable and made in good faith, and that the relocation was not a result of the spouse’s personal preferences. Pennsylvania Gaming Control Bd., 47 A.3d at 1267; Id.

The court found that claimant satisfied the first prong of this test but not the second.  There was an “insurmountable commuting problem for Claimant with regard to her Pennsylvania job. See Glen Mills, 665 A.2d at 564 (holding that it is obviously unreasonable to commute five hours round trip each day). Accordingly, Claimant sustained her burden of demonstrating an insurmountable commuting problem and, therefore, satisfied the first prong of the “follow-the-spouse” doctrine. In order to satisfy the second prong of the analysis, a claimant must demonstrate that circumstances beyond her spouse’s control caused the necessity to relocate, that the decision was reasonable and made in good faith, and that the relocation was not a result of the spouse’s personal preferences. We note that the desire to maintain the family unit, alone, is insufficient to establish a necessary and compelling reason to leave employment. Schecter v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 491 A.2d 938, 941 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1985). On the other hand, a claimant may meet her burden by demonstrating that the relocating spouse’s position has been eliminated. Other examples of evidence offered to meet this burden have included a limited job market due to the highly specialized nature of a spouse’s occupation, 7 a spouse’s military orders,8 a spouse’s medical needs, 9 or evidence that a spouse’s job will be eliminated.10
7 Glen Mills, 665 A.2d at 564. 8 Pennsylvania Gaming Control Bd., 47 A.3d at 1270-71. 9 Steck v. UCBR, 467 A.2d 1378, 1380 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1983). 10 See Mechanicsburg Area Sch. Dist. v. UCBR, 551 A.2d 401, 402-03 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1988)

The “objective of the Law . . . is to ensure that employees who become unemployed involuntarily are provided with some semblance of economic security.” Hamot Medical Center v. UCBR, 645 A.2d 466, 469 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1994). Thus, it is not the purpose of unemployment compensation to be a vehicle through which a family may finance a voluntary change of career or a desire for a spouse to obtain additional education. If husband had had a firm offer of employment when he completed the schooling, our decision may have been different.”

Dissent
We have long held that the Unemployment Compensation Law“was intended to be remedial legislation which is to be liberally and broadly construed…” Steck v. UCBR, 467 A.2d 1378, 1380 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1983) (citing Kleban v. UCBR, 459 A.2d 53, 55 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1983)).

In the “follow the spouse” context, we have recognized the unique nature of the family unit in situations where compelling reasons motivated the initial move in the first place:

While preservation of the family unit does not, in and of itself, give rise to necessitous and compelling reason under Section 402(b), [] we are not indifferent to its social desirability. Moreover, in the absence of statutory language mandating such application, we are disinclined to interpret the Law in a way which tends to be disruptive to family unity. In this case, we believe it is sufficient that the claimant has demonstrated a good faith desire to keep her family together, that her interest in preserving the family unit was irreconcilable with maintenance of her job due to the distance between her's [sic] and her husband's places of employment, and that her husband's decision to relocate was motivated by compelling factors. Stevens v. UCBR, 473 A.2d 254, 257 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984) (emphasis added).

In the present case, the Majority has shown no such “disinclin[ation],” despite no legislative direction otherwise. Coupled with the “compelling factors” before us (equally as compelling as those in Stevens), the Majority’s interpretation and application of the “follow the spouse” doctrine is erroneous and, for this family, quite harmful. 2 As there is no indication that this is consistent with legislative intent, I am compelled to dissent.




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