Woman who quit job over new hours not owed unemployment

By John O'Brien | Mar 6, 2013

CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court has ruled a former Verizon employee is not entitled to unemployment benefits because she voluntarily left her job.

The Feb. 27 decision reversed a 2011 decision by Kanawha County Circuit Court Paul Zakaib, who had ruled Loretta Epling was eligible for unemployment benefits. Epling had been hired in 2008 as a business consultant.

She resigned in 2010 when her new hours, and pay raise, prevented her from picking her children up from a childcare facility.

“Having determined that the element of fault on the part of the employer has not been demonstrated in the present case, this court concludes that Mrs. Epling terminated her employment voluntarily without good cause involving fault on the part of the employer,” the per curiam decision says.

Zakaib’s order had not addressed Epling’s contention that her departure was not truly voluntary because of her childcare issues. He found fault on the part of the employer and did not reach those claims.

The Board of Review of Workforce West Virginia had found Epling ineligible for benefits and that Epling’s union had negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that authorized Verizon to alter employees’ shifts and hours based on business needs.

Zakaib reversed, finding the relevant issue was whether the change in her hours constituted fault on the part of the employer caused Epling to leave her job with good cause.

On appeal to the state Supreme Court, Verizon reiterated the presence of the collective bargaining agreement and asserted that its actions were consistent with the written terms of Epling’s employment.

It added that it could not grant her request for transfer to a part-time or day shift position because it would have displaced more senior workers.

“Although this employee was initially hired into a position which permitted her to leave work by 5 p.m., the record is clear that she was also informed, through two separate written documents, that her working hours could be altered at any time,” the decision says.

“Moreover, negotiations had occurred between the employer and the union representing the employee. The resulting collective bargaining agreement provided that there was no guaranteed work schedule and that the employer was authorized to alter working hours as business needs required.

“Consequently, the analysis of the factual circumstances herein compels this court to conclude that the element of fault on the part of the employer, a predominant factor in many of the cases outlined above, simply does not exist in the present case.”

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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