Friday, July 20, 2018

UC - voluntary quit - voluntary layoff option proviso of sec. 402(b)

Phila. Regional Port Authority v. UCBR – July 20, 2018 – en banc – reported decision

Held:  Claimant was eligible for benefits under Section 402(b) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (Law) because she opted to participate in a voluntary separation incentive program offered by Employer.

The Voluntary Layoff Option (VLO) Proviso of Section 402(b) of the Law states as follows: An employe shall be ineligible for compensation for any week – *** (b) In which his unemployment is due to voluntarily leaving work without cause of a necessitous and compelling nature…Provided further, That no otherwise eligible claimant shall be denied benefits for any week in which his unemployment is due to exercising the option of accepting a layoff, from an available position pursuant to a labor-management contract agreement, or pursuant to an established employer plan, program or policy[.] 43 P.S. §802(b).

The court relied on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Diehl v. UCBR, 57 A.3d 1209 (Pa. 2012).   Recognizing that the Law does not define “layoff,” the Supreme Court concluded that the term should be construed consistent with “common parlance,” which encompasses “both temporary and permanent separations initiated by the employer.” Diehl, 57 A.3d at 1218 . It then considered whether an early retirement plan offered in the context of a workforce reduction is the equivalent of “an option of accepting a layoff.” The Supreme Court concluded that they were the same, stating “Given that we must interpret eligibility sections broadly in favor of the employee, we find no language that prevents the interpretation of the term layoff to include this employer-initiated, early retirement packages [sic] offered pursuant to a workforce reduction. Diehl, 57 A.3d at 1222.

“The plain language of the VLO Proviso does not support Employer’s contention that a “plan” must be one that targets specific employees, or positions, 12 and must have been agreed to by the separating employee in advance of its need. Neither Diehl nor its progeny support Employer’s proffered requirements. Claimant accepted a layoff from an available position pursuant to Employer’s Voluntary Separation Incentive Program. As the Board correctly determined, Claimant is eligible for benefits under the VLO Proviso.”