Bechill v. Benzie County Government Center – 10.98

Bechill v. Benzie County Government Center
Digest No. 10.98

Section 421.29(1)(a)

Cite as: Bechill v Benzie Co. Gov’t Ctr, Benzie Circuit Court, No. B 2007-21980-RM2-201487W (August 21, 2009).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Richard J. Bechill
Employer: Benzie County Government Center
Docket no.: 201487wh
Date of decision: August 21, 2009

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HOLDING: When a claimant voluntarily terminates his or her employment, a significant reduction in wages (via a reduction in work hours) constitutes good cause attributable to the employer as a matter of public policy.

FACTS: Claimant was a dispatcher at the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office. For the first five months of his employment, Claimant was working an average of 40 hours per week. Over the summer, as a result of a myriad of factors, Claimant voluntarily worked an average of 18.25 hours per week. When Claimant saw that he was only scheduled for 3 days of work (16-20 hours) for the entirety of the next month (which he has not requested), Claimant voluntarily terminated his employment.

Claimant applied for unemployment benefits but was denied. He subsequently appealed this decision and the Board of Review upheld the denial of benefits due to the fact that (1) Claimant could not show proof that he was guaranteed a certain number of hours per week and (2) Claimant failed to show that a reasonable person would have quit instead of filing a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement that governed Claimant’s employment. Claimant then submitted a request a rehearing which was denied.

DECISION: The Board of Review decision is reversed and Claimant is entitled to unemployment benefits.

RATIONALE: As a matter of public policy, a non-voluntary, significant reduction in wages constitutes good cause attributable to the employer. If the court did not allow this to constitute good cause, this could allow employers to reduce wages near benefit level instead of releasing an employee. This would compel the employee’s resignation while simultaneously making them ineligible for benefits. Robertson v. Brown, 139 So. 2d 226, 229, 100 ALR 2d 1052 (La. Ct. App. 1962). This could make reducing hours a weapon of control for employers to make employees comply with their demands. Bunny’s Waffle Shop, Inc. v. Cal. Emp’t Comm’n, 151 P.2d 224, 227-28, 24 Cal. 2d 735, 741-43 (1944).

Digest Author: Cydney Warburton, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 1/6/2016

Laque v. Tru Tech Systems, Inc., UIA – 12.144

Laque v. Tru Tech Systems, Inc., UIA
Digest No. 12.144

Section 421.29(1)(a)

Cite as: Laque v Tru Tech Systems, Inc., Macomb Circuit Court, No. 2005-4944-AE

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Michael J. Laque
Employer: Tru Tech Systems, Inc.
Docket no.: 2005-4944-AE
Date of decision: May 25, 2006

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HOLDING: When a claimant voluntarily terminates his or her employment, a withholding of wages by the employer pursuant to an IRS order constitutes good cause attributable to the employer when the employer continues such withholding long after the IRS order is resolved.

FACTS: Claimant held a traveling service job for Tru Tech, beginning January 2003 and ending in December 2004 when he quit due to withheld paychecks. In November 2004, Employer began to withhold wages earned by Claimant pursuant to a levy issued by the IRS. Claimant explained that the IRS had issued the levy by mistake and produced a release of the levy eight days after the IRS’s request for withholding. Employer continued to withhold paychecks due on December 2, 9, and 16, and on December 20, 2004, Claimant called Employer to end his employment due to the unnecessarily withheld pay. On December 18 (or earlier, based on the testimony of Employer), Claimant met with Employer to discuss changing his status to independent contractor. Employer failed to produce written record of any such discussion and claimant “vehemently disputed the employer’s testimony” that he had ever considered himself an independent contractor. When Claimant filed for unemployment benefits, his claim was denied by the Unemployment Insurance Agency. On appeal to an Administrative Law Judge, this decision was reversed and his claim was granted. On Employer’s appeal to the Michigan Employment Security Board of Review, the ALJ’s decision was at first reversed, then affirmed on reconsideration. Employer then appealed further to the District Court.

DECISION: The Board of Review decision is affirmed and Claimant is entitled to unemployment insurance benefits.

RATIONALE: When a justification for withholding pay, such as an IRS order, becomes ineffective (e.g., by an official rescission of the IRS order), employers immediately regain their duty to pay their employees in a timely fashion. For the relevant legal question of whether a “reasonable, average, and otherwise qualified worker” would give up her or his employment, such circumstances are essentially the same, from the worker’s perspective, as an employer withholding pay for no reason.

Digest Author: James Fahringer, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 1/6/2016

Wright v Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. – 10.111

Wright v Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., UIA

Digest No. 10.111

Section 29(1)(a)

 

Cite as: Wright v Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co, unpublished opinion of the Oakland County Circuit Court, issued August 18, 2005 (Docket No. 05-064329-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Sherry Wright
Employer: Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Inc.
Date of decision: August 18, 2005

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HOLDING: When an employee resigns and takes a severance package, the separation is considered to be voluntary. “‘Voluntary’ connotes a choice between alternatives that ordinary persons find reasonable.” MacArthur v Borman’s Inc, 200 Mich App 686 (1993). An agreement between an employer and an employee that states the employer will not contest unemployment benefits is not binding on the Agency.

FACTS: Claimant worked for employer from August 19, 1986 until March 2004. In January 2004, in order to reduce its workforce, the employer offered a severance package in exchange for resignation. Part of this agreement was that the employer would not contest Claimant’s eligibility for UI benefits. Claimant was not told what would happen if she refused the offer, however she did know that she had less seniority than many other employees. Her future at the company was therefore uncertain if she did not take the severance package.

The Agency found Claimant disqualified under the voluntary leaving provision. The ALJ found that Claimant had voluntarily quit, but due to the agreement restitution was to be charged to the employer not Claimant. Board of Review and Circuit Court upheld the decision.

DECISION: The Circuit Court found that Claimant chose to take the severance package instead of continuing to work with an uncertain future. She was therefore disqualified.

RATIONALE: Claimant relied on the dissent in the Board of Review decision for her appeal. That dissent relied on unpublished opinions of the Michigan Court of Appeals and circuit court opinions. Claimant did not attach these decisions to her appeal, so the Circuit Court found them unpersuasive. Relying on MacArthur v Borman’s Inc, the Circuit Court found that Claimant could have chosen to continue to work at the employer with an uncertain future. Since Claimant, instead, chose to leave and take the severance package, she voluntarily quit.

Digest author: Andrea M. Frailey, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest updated: November 26, 2017