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Submitted January 10, 2001

Appellant Thomas Melfi appeals from a final decision of the Board of Review (the Board) denying his claim for partial unemployment compensation benefits for the week ending February 13, 1999. Appellant, who was collecting partial benefits while employed through a temporary employment agency, did not work on February 8, 1999, because he attended the funeral of his brother-in-law. Although appellant worked the remainder of the week, the Board determined that he was “unavailable for work” for the complete seven-day work week commencing on February 7, 1999, and was therefore disqualified for unemployment benefits, N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c)(1) (permitting unavailability for work for up to two days when attending the funeral of defined family members), (6) and N.J.S.A. 43:21-19(q). Although we consider the legislative scheme permitting funeral attendance to be too restrictive, and not in keeping with the realities of extended familial relationships, we are constrained to follow this narrowly drawn statutory proscription and affirm.

The facts are simply stated. Appellant’s brother-in-law died on February 5, 1999. Appellant and his brother-in-law did not reside in the same household. Appellant notified his employer that he would be attending his brother-in-law’s funeral on February 8, 1999, and would not be available for work. He returned to work the next day and for the remainder of the week. Appellant’s claim for partial unemployment compensation benefits for the week of February 7 to 13, 1999, was denied because appellant was “unavailable for work” on February 8. Following a hearing, the Appeal Tribunal affirmed, as did the Board. Appellant appeals, asserting that the compensation eligibility scheme under N.J.S.A. 43:21-4 and -19(q) violates his rights of free exercise of religion and equal protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV. We conclude that appellant’s free exercise claim is without merit. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). This neutral statutory scheme as interpreted and applied does not violate any religious tenet asserted by appellant.

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