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Communication Breakdown with Employer Does Not Result in Employee’s Disqualification of Unemployment Benefits

The Appellate Division recently overturned the Board of Review holding that the fact the claimant was not more aggressive in following up with his employer regarding his employment status should not have disqualified him from receiving unemployment benefits.

In the matter of Hutchinson v. Board of Review, the claimant, Frank Hutchinson, was employed as a driver with Elite Transportation of New Jersey, Inc. Mr. Hutchinson testified that his company vehicle broke down twice in three days, the first being on January 4, 2010 and the second on January 6, 2010. It was extremely cold on January 6, 2010, with the temperature being approximately twenty-one degrees at the time the company vehicle had broken down. After the company vehicle’s engine would not start, Mr. Hutchinson called his employer and informed the dispatcher that the car was broken down and that he needed emergency aid to dispatched to his location. When no emergency aid arrived, the claimant again called his employer and this time spoke with the owner, Vonda. Vonda instructed Mr. Hutchinson to remain in his car until emergency assistance arrived. Mr. Hutchinson responded that he did not want to wait any longer because of how cold it was and the fact he had to wait for over an hour-and-a-half for emergency assistance to arrive when the vehicle had broken down on January 4, 2010. After waiting for emergency assistance for a few more minutes, Mr. Hutchinson again called Vonda. This third conversation resulted in an argument as a result of Mr. Hutchinson advising Vonda that he was leaving the car and taking the train home. During the argument, Vonda did not ask Mr. Hutchinson to come to the office or call in for another assignment.

The following day, Mr. Hutchinson called Vonda to discuss his work status. Vonda responded that she would have someone call him back, but no one returned his call. As a result, Mr. Hutchinson believed that his employer no longer wanted or needed his services and therefore he filed for unemployment benefits.

Both the Appeal Tribunal and Board of Review denied Mr. Hutchison’s claim for unemployment benefits finding that he should have taken more steps and exhausted all opportunities before concluding that his employment had ended. In overruling the decision of the Appeal Tribunal and Board of Review, the Appellate Division disagreed that the lapse in communication between the claimant and his employer was entirely the responsibility of the claimant. The Appellate Division noted that it was not the claimant’s fault that his company vehicle became inoperable for the second time in three days and that there was no evidence that there was other available work that the claimant could have performed while his car remained inoperable. For these reasons, Mr. Hutchinson was held to be qualified to receive unemployment benefits.