November 2018 Briefly: An Unemployment Case Analysis

Case Analysis: Claimant Testified that She Quit due to Racial Slurs in the Workplace

Background

The claimant voluntarily quit after she complained about a coworker. She was disqualified from unemployment benefits upon finding that she quit without good cause connected with the work. She appealed and a hearing was scheduled before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

At the Hearing

The Claimant’s Evidence: The claimant testified that she quit due to illegal activity in the workplace. She testified that she heard a coworker use a racial slur and reported it to her employer. The claimant did not hear anything back from the employer and the coworker used the racial slur again. She testified that the employer was not going to do anything about the coworker or her complaint, so she decided to quit.

The Employer’s Evidence: The employer testified that the claimant had reported to her manager that a coworker had used a racial slur in her presence the previous week. The manager referred the issue to their Human Resource (HR) department. The employer witness from HR testified that, as a part of the investigation into the allegations, she had requested a written statement from the claimant about the incident. The claimant submitted her resignation instead. The employer testified that if the claimant had asked, the employer would have transferred her to another work site or offered her hours that were different from the offensive coworker.

The Hearing Decision  

The ALJ found that the claimant quit without good cause connected with the work, and she was disqualified from benefits. The ALJ found that the claimant failed to give the employer the opportunity to address her concerns. The situation was not so onerous as to compel her to leave work immediately. The claimant appealed, arguing that the situation was serious enough to compel her to leave work, and she requested a new hearing to present additional evidence. The claimant offered no reason for not presenting all of her evidence at the scheduled hearing.

The Board of Review Decision

The Board of Review (BOR) agreed with the ALJ’s decision, and the claimant remained disqualified from benefits. The employer evinced an intention to investigate the claimant’s concerns, but the claimant left work immediately rather than provide a written statement. This did not allow the employer the time to investigate the incident and address it. Additionally, the claimant appeared at the hearing to present her evidence. She did not provide a reason for not presenting her additional evidence, which could be considered good cause to reopen the matter. The request was denied.             

Takeaways

  1. Good cause to leave work can be found, if 1) the claimant informs the employer of any concerns prior to leaving work and 2) gives the employer the opportunity to address them.
    • The claimant in this case alleged that the employer allowed illegal activity.
    • The ALJ found that the situation was not so onerous that it relieved the claimant of the obligation to inform the employer of her concerns. Further, she did not give the employer the opportunity to investigate and address her concerns before quitting.
    • Be prepared to prove that the claimant was aware of any complaint procedures, and that the claimant failed to use them.  If the claimant had options available to her that were less severe than becoming unemployed, states could deny benefits.
  2. The hearing before the ALJ is usually the final opportunity for the parties to present evidence regarding the issues to be decided.
    • The purpose of an unemployment hearing is to allow the parties to provide all of the evidence and testimony related to the separation.
    • The appeal process generally provides an opportunity for the parties to request that the state review the hearing record and the decision to determine if it is legally correct.
    • States are generally constrained by law from considering any additional evidence since there is no procedure that would allow for the opposing party to respond.
    • Evidence in your possession that is not presented at the hearing will not be considered, generally in an appeal. If a party is able to prove that the party was somehow prevented from presenting evidence at the first hearing, and that the evidence could have had an effect on the outcome of the case, the BOR can order a new hearing in front of an ALJ.  The ALJ would hear the evidence and allow the opposing party the opportunity to respond.
    • *A few states will allow additional evidence at a BOR hearing.  Please contact your unemployment consultant with questions about your state.

*Please remember: Unemployment Laws vary from state to state. The result in this case might be different from a case in your state based on your separate or unique facts, laws, regulations, or circumstances.

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