Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, September 14, 2022


Page 1


Court of Appeal:

CUIAB Erroneously Deemed Woman to Have Quit Her Job

Failure of Employee on Leave to Respond to Queries As to Return Date Doesn’t Justify Inference That Employment

Has Been Abandoned, Disqualifying Person From Unemployment Benefits, Opinion Declares


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A woman who went on leave to care for her terminally ill grandmother, with her employer’s consent, but while away from work failed to provide a return date or otherwise communicate with the employer, was wrongfully denied unemployment benefits on the ground that she had voluntarily quit her job, the First District held yesterday.

Div. One, in an opinion by Justice Jon B. Streeter, reversed a judgment by Alameda Superior Court Judge Michael M. Markman. That judgment was in favor of the woman claiming entitlement to benefits, Reena Johar, but in granting her petition for a writ of administrative mandamus, Markman remanded the matter to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (“CUIAB”) for a consideration of new evidence.

Johar, who had been a salesperson for Success Water Systems (“SWS”), wanted a ruling from the Court of Appeal, without further administrative proceedings, that she should be paid unemployment benefits. Streeter agreed.

CUIAB’s Decision

The CUIAB determined, in affirming an administrative law judge’s ruling in favor of the employer, that Johar was disqualified for benefits under Unemployment Insurance Code §1256 because, in the words of the statute, she had left her “most recent work voluntarily without good cause.” It said in its ruling:

“The Claimant left for Chicago to take care of a sick family member on October 23, 2019. The claimant had made such trips in the past but had reported back to work after a week or so. When the claimant left for the final time, the claimant did not give a definite return date nor did the claimant ask for a leave of absence....

“The evidence is such that the claimant left indicating she would be on a mini vacation taking care of a sick relative, and then never returned to work nor made any attempt to contact the employer. Basically, the claimant abandoned her job.”

The board found that there was no evidence that Johar “made any attempts to contact the employer in the period between her last day of work and her applying for benefits.”

Streeter’s Opinion

Streeter relied heavily on the second sentence of §1256, saying that a person claiming benefits “is presumed to have been discharged for reasons other than… to have voluntarily left his or her work without good cause unless his or her employer has given written notice to the contrary” to the Employment Development Department “setting forth facts sufficient to overcome the presumption.” He wrote:

“It is undisputed that she left her job in emergency circumstances with the employer’s approval, and thus for good cause. The question is what to make of the circumstances after her departure. In assessing that question, we ask who the moving party was in terminating the employment relationship, bearing in mind that an employee who leaves work for good cause is entitled to a presumption that she has not voluntarily quit. The presumption may be overcome, but only upon evidence showing the employee positively repudiated her obligation to return in clear terms. The evidence here does not meet that standard.”

He went on to say:

“The dispositive question in this case is whether, having voluntarily left work for good cause, Johar manifested an intention to abandon her job while she was gone.”

To manifest such an intention, Streeter said, an employee must convey such an intention in the “clearest terms.”

Employer’s Position

SWS’s position in the hearing before the administrative law judge was that Johar manifested the intention by failing to respond to any of the employer’s requests that she supply an anticipated return date.

“But that is not enough to show a repudiation of future contractual duties,” the justice wrote.

He said “the responsibility for the murkiness of the record must fall on SWS,” remarking that “by failing to make its expectations clear ahead of Johar’s trip, SWS created the conditions that made Johar’s conduct in the period after her departure difficult to evaluate.”

The justice noted that SWS had no standing policy as to communicating with the office while on leave and had not ordered Johar to return by a particular date.

There was no need for further administrative hearings to consider SWS’s claim, raised before the CUIAB that Johar lacked the requisite license for her job, Streeter opined, because the matter can be resolved on the current record. He declared:

“We simply hold that, on the existing administrative record, the evidence is insufficient to overcome the presumption against a voluntary quit. In the end, the murkiness of the record calls for a reversal, not a remand for more factfinding when SWS failed to bear its burden of overcoming the section 1256 presumption favoring Johar the first time around. The governing statutory scheme places a priority on expedition, and that priority is no less important in mandate proceedings at the end of the administrative process.”

The opinion orders a remand for a determination of how much she should have been paid in benefits, plus 10 percent prejudgment interest.

The case is Johar v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, A162563.


Copyright 2022, Metropolitan News Company