Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Follow-the-Spouse to Unemployment Compensation

A recent Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania case, Pa. Gaming Control Bd. v. UCBR, 927 C.D. 2011, 2012 WL 1860807 (Pa. Commw. Ct. May 23, 2012), provided a nice overview of the "follow-the-spouse" doctrine in Pennsylvania unemployment compensation law. It also included a little bit of a twist, and what may be viewed as an expansion of the rule.

Generally, an employee who quits his job voluntarily is not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. An employee who leaves voluntarily may be eligible if he can establish that he quit for a "necessitous and compelling" reason.

As the Court has previously explained:
Family obligations or joining a spouse at a new location can constitute a necessitous and compelling reason to leave one's employment. However, a claimant voluntarily terminating employment for family obligations must establish that the action was reasonable and undertaken in good faith. The actual reasons may not be purely personal. Although the preservation of the family unit is socially desirable, this desire to maintain the family unit is not in and of itself sufficient cause to terminate employment and become eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.
(internal citations omitted). The classic "follow-the-spouse" scenario involves an employee who resided with his spouse, who then quits his job to follow a relocating spouse. Relying on past precedent, the Court explained:
Where a claimant terminates employment to join a relocating spouse, the claimant must demonstrate an economic hardship in maintaining two residences or that the move has posed an insurmountable commuting problem. The claimant must also show that her resignation was the direct result of her spouse's relocation, i.e., the necessity to relocate must be caused by circumstances beyond the control of the claimant's spouse and not by personal preference, and the decision to relocate must be reasonable and be made in good faith. These principles reflect the General Assembly's intent to permit the obligation of joining one's spouse, under the proper circumstances, to constitute cause of a necessitous and compelling nature to leave one's employment. The desire to maintain the family unit is not by itself sufficient cause to terminate one's employment and receive benefits.
(internal citations omitted). So, why was this case different?

In Pa. Gaming Control Bd., the spouse relocated before the couple got married. Does that matter? Per the Court's opinion, not really - it's still the same test. Here, the relocation was based in part on personal preference, but also the "economic hardship" of maintaining two residences and the "insurmountable commuting distance" (in this case, Pennsylvania to Louisiana). Accordingly, the claimant was eligible for benefits.