Teacher’s assistant who quit job because of commute not entitled to unemployment benefits

By Jon Campisi | Mar 4, 2014

A teacher from southeastern Pennsylvania who sought unemployment

compensation after she quit her job following a transfer because the commute would be an apparent hardship cannot recoup benefits, a state appeals panel ruled late last month.

In a Feb. 26 opinion, three judges sitting on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court determined that the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review was correct to affirm the decision of a referee that that held Theresa M. Keim was not entitled to unemployment compensation benefits because she voluntarily quit her job without a “necessitous and compelling reason.”

Keim, who began working as a teacher’s assistant at Montgomery Early Learning Center in the summer of 1998, was transferred to the employer’s Narberth, Pa. location in February of last year, the record shows.

The woman ended up declining the transfer because, as she contended, the 35-mile commute from her home would result in additional wear and tear on her vehicle, traffic would be problematic and she is not a “long distance driver.”

Keim then quit her job and subsequently sought unemployment compensation benefits.

The administrative referee who heard Keim’s case determined that while an unreasonable distance to work and/or an increase in work-related travel expenses due to a transfer may constitute good cause for quitting employment, Pennsylvania courts have ruled that a claimant must first take reasonable steps to overcome a transportation problem in order to establish a necessitous or compelling reason for doing so, according to the Commonwealth Court’s ruling, which was written by Senior Judge James Gardner Colins.

The referee had determined that the 35-mile trip from the plaintiff’s home in western Montgomery County to the Narberth location was not an unreasonable distance and that Keim hadn’t taken any steps to overcome the transportation problem.

The review board adopted the referee’s findings, reiterating that an employer has the right to make reasonable modifications to an employee’s job, records show.

The Commonwealth Court panel noted that it previously held that a commute to work in the 50-to-60-mile range does not rise to the level of a necessitous and compelling reason to terminate employment.

In upholding the review board’s ruling, the appeals judges wrote that Keim never even tried commuting to the new location, not even for “a single day.”

“Accordingly, Claimant did not establish that her commuting difficulties were insurmountable, nor did she take any steps to overcome the stated difficulties,” the panel wrote. “Claimant failed to establish that the commute to the new location constituted a necessitous and compelling reason to quit her employment, and were therefore affirm.”

The other jurists who heard the appeal were President Judge Dan Pellegrini and Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt.

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