Change in employee’s work hours leads to unemployment benefits

Last Wednesday, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, affirmed an award of unemployment benefits to an employee whose employer had changed her work hours to interfere with her child care arrangements.

The employee worked from 8:30am  to 4:30pm, but had difficulty getting to work on time every day because of the traffic.  Her supervisor asked her to think about changing her hours to 9am to 5pm, but the employee resisted because she would not have enough time to pick up her child by 5:30pm, when the after-school program closed.  As a compromise, the employee suggested she work from 8:45 to 4:45, a notion that the employer rejected out of hand.  The employee left her employment as a result.

In its opinion, the Court provides an interesting discussion of “good cause” under the law’s provision that a person who leaves work without good cause attributable to the work is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  Good cause, the Court says, generally means enough cause to justify the employee’s voluntary departure from employment.  Good cause is directly related to the employment and gives the employee no choice but to leave employment.

The Court examined a prior case involving an employee’s transportation problem.  When a transportation issue arises solely from the employee’s personal circumstances, it is not enough to provide good cause, the Court recalled.  If the transportation issue stems from a change in working conditions unilaterally instituted by the employer, an “evaluation and balancing” of factors must be done to determine eligibility for benefits.

While this case involved a unilateral change in work hours instituted by the employer, it caused a child care problem instead of a transportation problem.  The employee had the same child-care arrangements for a long time and yet the employer had given her no time to find alternate arrangements, rejecting a compromise proposal for the employee.

These circumstances resulted in the Court’s affirming the prior award of unemployment benefits to the employee.

Commentary

The procedural history of this case is worth noting.  The employer protested the employee’s application for unemployment and the Appeal Tribunal sided with the employer, denying benefits.  But the Board of Review found in favor of the employee, rejecting the Appeal Tribunal’s finding that the unilateral change in working hours was insubstantial.

This procedural history shows that what seems like a fairly simple issue at first blush – the conflict between working hours and child care – is actually fairly complicated and can be difficult to decide, requiring a balancing of several factors.

Silent Type, Inc. v. Board of Review, et al., Docket No. A-0403-07T3 (Superior Ct of NJ, App Div 2008).

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