A Manassas, Virginia employer offered an employee work in distant
Montross when Manassas work slowed down. The employee chose a layoff instead.
Was he eligible for unemployment compensation?
What happened. A male worker began working as a truck driver for Eaheart Excavating, Inc., in
Manassas in 1998. In October 2006, Eaheart’s truck foreman offered the man a
permanent job at Eaheart’s location in Montross. Such a change would have
required him to move to the Montross area—about 85 miles from
Manassas. He asked no questions about relocation expenses or voiced any
concerns, but simply declined the offer.
In January 2007, Eaheart’s truck foreman met with him
again and told him that work had slowed down in Manassas. He gave him a
choice between being laid off or working at Eaheart’s Montross location.
He chose the layoff. He did not ask any specific questions about the
Montross job, such as whether the position was permanent, whether he could commute
in a company vehicle, or whether Eaheart would pay his travel expenses.
He applied for
unemployment benefits with the Virginia Employment Commission. The deputy
commissioner decided that he qualified for benefits because the job in Montross
would have been inaccessible from his residence.
Eaheart appealed, claiming
that he had made false statements. Eaheart argued that he had not
been terminated and that he was not required to relocate to Montross as a
condition of accepting the position there. Upon questioning, he admitted
that he had elected a layoff and had not been terminated, and that he had not
discussed the specifics of the job in Montross with anyone at Eaheart. The
appeals examiner decided that he had voluntarily quit his job without
good cause, which disqualified him from unemployment benefits. The appeals
examiner also decided that his failure to investigate the details of
the Montross job offer showed that he could not prove that he had good cause
for leaving his job.
He appealed to the
Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), which affirmed the appeals examiner’s
ruling. He appealed to the Circuit Court of Fairfax County.
What the court said. He argued that Eaheart had terminated his
employment. The court disagreed, mainly because of his own testimony.
When the appeals examiner questioned him, he explained that he had not
been terminated but was instead given a choice between a transfer and a voluntary
layoff. In his “Statement Concerning Voluntary Quit/Leave of Absence”
in his application, he stated that he was laid off and not terminated. In
addition, Eaheart stated that laid-off workers could return when there was work
for them to do. Under the circumstances, the court agreed that the Commission’s
conclusion that he quit voluntarily was justified.
Next, the court considered
whether he had good cause for leaving his job. The Virginia Employment
Commission has held that an employee must pursue every available avenue open to
him, making every effort to adjust his job with his employer, before he can
quit a job. The Commission and the court both found that he had not done
this. He had simply refused the job in Montross without inquiring into the
particulars of the job. He had said that he refused the job because he
thought he would have to drive to Montross every day without pay or move to
Montross. However, he had not discussed the situation with his employer, but had
simply assumed that the job in Montross would be too burdensome.
He may have had a
reasonable employment conflict, but he did not take the steps necessary to
prove that that was the case. His reasons for refusing the job were purely
speculative. Because he took no affirmative steps to clarify the conditions of
the Montross job, the court found that he had not met his burden of proving
that he had good cause for leaving his job. The court affirmed the VEC’s ruling
and dismissed his appeal. Roseberry v. Virginia Employment
Commission, Circuit Court of Fairfax
County, VA, No. CL 2007-10277 (2008).
Point to remember: An employee can’t claim unemployment benefits until
he has pursued every available avenue to keep his job.