Over the last several months, three new unemployment compensation cases have been decided by courts that are critical for practitioners to keep in mind as they pursue their unemployment compensation cases.
The first case is Imani Christian Academy v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 42 A.3d 1171 (Pa.Cmwlth.2012). In Imani, the employer is a Christian school that, in defense of an unemployment compensation claim, argued that the claimant for the unemployment compensation benefits could not collect them because it is a church. Under unemployment compensation law, employment that qualifies an employee for benefits does not include services performed for a church or an organization operated primarily for religious purposes. Based on the evidence presented at the referee’s hearing, it was revealed that even though the school was a Christian school and included religious classes, it operated primarily for educational purposes. Therefore, the school could not seek exemption from the unemployment compensation benefits on the basis of being a church or operating primarily for religious purposes. The court implied that the school simply did not provide sufficient evidence to prove its argument, so the lesson from this matter is to be sure the testimony and evidence provided is both substantive and sufficient to prove a party’s claims.
The second case is Grand Sport Auto Body v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 55 A.3d 186 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2012). In this case, the claimant for the unemployment compensation benefits had a long history of absenteeism and lateness. The employer took the actions of giving him several warnings, changing his schedule to help him arrive on time, offering to call him each morning to wake him up, suspending him and even firing him and then rehiring him. The claimant provided virtually no legitimate reason or justification for his absences. Eventually, the claimant requested vacation time to honeymoon in Mexico. The employer granted the vacation time; however, on the day the claimant was due back to work, his flight was overbooked and he was stuck in Mexico. Frustrated by his history of absences, the employer terminated the claimant for willful misconduct. When applying for unemployment compensation benefits, the claimant argued that he was terminated because of his last absence, which was not willful misconduct because he was stuck in Mexico and his absence was beyond his control. The court ruled that even though the most recent absence was not willful, and as a result he could not be terminated because of that absence in particular, an employee can certainly be terminated because of a history of absences that were willful, irrespective of the circumstances of the most recent absence.
Finally, there is the matter of Bosch v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 55 A.3d 758 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2012). This case reveals how unemployment compensation can interact with workers’ compensation. The claimant initially suffered a work-related injury and sought workers’ compensation benefits. The employer contested the claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Because of the claimant’s being out of work as a result of his injury, he did not have sufficient benefit weeks to qualify for unemployment compensation benefits. The claimant argued, pursuant to Section 204(b) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, if a claimant has a “compensable injury” (i.e., an injury for which a claimant is entitled to benefits) under workers’ compensation law, then it allows a claimant to use an alternate benefit year to calculate benefit weeks for unemployment compensation. Unfortunately for the claimant, even though he submitted evidence of his injury to unemployment compensation, he settled his workers’ compensation claim without ever establishing whether he suffered an injury compensable for workers’ compensation purposes. Therefore, as the claimant never had a compensable injury, he was not entitled to use an alternate benefit year, and he was found to be ineligible for benefits. Bosch is a must for practitioners to consider when preparing workers’ compensation settlements. Claimants must ensure any settlement includes language agreeing to and describing the compensable injury in order to put a claimant in the best position to also collect unemployment compensation.
Courts continue to hone and refine unemployment compensation law and it is important to stay ahead of the curve on these decisions.
James W. Cushing is an associate with the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen and practices unemployment compensation law. He can be reached at 215-563-7776 and firstname.lastname@example.org.