HARRISBURG — The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has affirmed a decision by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR) to deny unemployment benefits for a former Internal Revenue Service employee after she voluntarily left her position to participate in a religious convocation in China, according to a decision filed on March 13.
Judges Robert Simpson, Anne Covey and James Gardner Collins comprised the court, and the decision was written by Covey.
In 2015, Carla Slater, a former IRS employee, told her employer that she would not be coming to work for an entire month because she would be attending a religious event in China later that year. Slater told the IRS that she wanted to use annual leave and leave without pay for the trip. However, her employer denied her request and asked her to come up with a plan for how she could accrue the leave time she would need.
According to the decision, Slater did not come up with such a plan and decided to travel anyway.
The "claimant consciously decided not to report to work in November 2015 despite [the fact that] she was denied leave without pay status, she did not have sufficient annual or other leave and she had not been furloughed," Covey wrote in the decision.
Consequently, the IRS determined that her absence constituted voluntary termination, and Slater applied for unemployment benefits on Nov. 29, 2015. She received payments from Dec. 12, 2015 until June 4, 2016 when the Duquesne UC Service Center ruled that she was ineligible for benefits because she voluntarily quit her job.
The service center ordered her to pay back the $11,388 in benefits that she was paid during that time. Slater appealed the decision to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, which ruled against her. Then she appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
“[The] claimant [argued] that the UCBR erred by concluding that she voluntarily quit her employment since she worked under a seasonal contract in 2015 that only afforded her nine to 11 months of work, and she notified [her] employer that she would be off work for the month of November 2015,” Covey wrote in the decision.
She further argued that "her personal health issues and her religious and family obligations made it impossible for her to repay the November 2015 hours."
However, the Commonwealth Court sided with the UCBR.
“[A]lthough [the] claimant did not expressly resign her position, she refused to work and declined available employment,” Covey wrote in the decision.
“[The] claimant failed to produce evidence that her mother’s health, her health and/or her religious obligations prevented her from returning to work. Under such circumstances, this court rules that [the] claimant voluntarily quit her employment without proof of a necessitous and compelling reason. Accordingly, the UCBR properly concluded that [the] claimant is ineligible for UC benefits.”