Monday, October 11, 2010

Commonwealth Court: Claimant Entitled To Unemployment Compensation Benefits After Leaving Work While Upset

In Procyson v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, No. 1771 C.D. 2009 (Pa. Cmwlth. 9/22/2010) , the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court reversed a finding by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review that denied unemployment compensation benefits to a claimant due to a finding that the claimant had voluntarily quit her job after abruptly leaving following comments made by claimant's supervisor about claimant's job performance that made claimant visibly upset.

Claimant worked full-time for her employer from 11/2007 through 11/2008, when she was injured in a biking accident, which caused her to miss five weeks of work. Claimant then returned to work on a part-time basis with medical restrictions. During both her absence from work and her part-time schedule, the employer's general manager hired her brother to fill in for claimant's missed time. In early January of 2009, claimant was cleared by her doctor to return to work full-time. While at work on January 9, 2009, claimant called the general manager and requested to return to a full-time schedule. The general manager told claimant that she would have to talk to some other people, including employer's president, about claimant's request for a return to a full-time schedule. The general manager then told claimant that both she and the pharmacist agreed that the general manager's brother was able to do claimant's job faster than the claimant.

Claimant became very upset about these comments, and began to cry. She then gathered her belongings, called the pharmacist "two-faced," and left. The pharmacist followed claimant through the building and into the parking lot, telling claimant "don't leave like this." Claimant shouted back "no, leave me alone," and left. At no time did claimant ever say "I quit."

Claimant then reported for her next scheduled shift on Tuesday, January 13, 2009. When she arrived at work, she was called to the president's office, who (according to claimant) accused claimant in a loud voice of yelling and screaming in the store the previous Friday. The president then told claimant that she was fired, should leave and never come back.

Claimant then applied for unemployment compensation benefits, and was denied. At a hearing before the Referee, the Claimant admitted that she had walked out without completing her shift, but denied she had quit. Rather, she explained that she went home because she did not want the customers to see her upset and crying. Claimant testified that she loved her job and would never quit.

The Referee denied claimant unemployment compensation benefits, finding that claimant had abandoned her position and did not take reasonable steps to preserve her employment. Similarly, the Board of Review found that claimant had voluntarily terminated her employment on January 9, 2009 when she walked out of work while giving her employer "no inkling that she intended to return." The Board of Review also found that claimant's walking out of work because of comments by claimant's supervisor about her job performance did not constitute "necessitous and compelling reasons to quit."

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed, and found that claimant was entitled to unemployment compensation benefits. Specifically, the Court emphasized that Pennsylvania law requires "evidence of a conscious intention to abandon a job," and that claimant "never expressed such a conscious intention." The Court agreed with claimant's argument that "the fact that a claimant leaves work before the end of a shift does not, in itself, establish an intent to quit." Here, the Court found that claimant was attempting to return to work full-time when the altercation occurred, and that on the day in question, she never said "I quit." And, while claimant did leave work on Friday January 9, she attempted to return to work for her next scheduled shift on Tuesday January 13. The Court noted that it was not reasonable to infer that by not calling her employer during her scheduled days off, claimant had expressed an intent to quit. Rather, the Court recognized that the employer "had the opportunity to contact the employee, but chose, instead, to drop Claimant from the Tuesday schedule without calling her." The Court held that by returning to work the following Tuesday, claimant "acted to preserve the employment relationship." The Court ultimately determined that it was the actions of the president in firing claimant on Tuesday January 13, which terminated claimant's employment, not her leaving work the Friday before. As such, the claimant was entitled to unemployment compensation benefits.

The Commonwealth Court's full opinion is available here: http://www.aopc.org/OpPosting/Cwealth/out/1771CD09_9-22-10.pdf