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December 16, 2008
Did Relocation Offer Amount to Termination?

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?

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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.

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