New Jersey Court Vacates and Remands Decision Disqualifying Employee From Receiving Unemployment Benefits for Failing to Provide Adequate Documentation of Familial Relationship with Deceased Grandfather

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently vacated a decision rendered by the Board of Review disqualifying the claimant from receiving New Jersey unemployment benefits. The Appellate Division directed that further proceedings concerning the claimant’s eligibility for unemployment benefits be conducted in order to determine the relationship between the claimant and the deceased man that the claimant claimed to be his biological grandfather. In addition, the Appellate Division found it necessary to further develop facts surrounding the employer’s policy on documentation of absences.

The Board of Review had previously found the claimant disqualified for New Jersey unemployment benefits when claimant’s attendance of his grandfather’s funeral caused him to exceed employer’s attendance point program resulting in his termination. The Appellate Division found that the ambiguous nature of the evidence presented as to claimant’s familial relationship to the deceased and the employer’s policy on documentation of absences made it impossible to reach a final decision without further proceedings.

In this matter, Regis v. Board of Review, the claimant, Mr. Cleveland M. Regis, worked as a shipping clerk for five years. In November 2010, Mr. Regis requested leave to attend a funeral with his mother. Mr. Regis claimed that the decedent was his grandfather and was asked by his employer to provide the obituary upon his return. At the time his leave was approved, Mr. Regis was within the ten points permitted in his employer’s attendance point program. Upon Mr. Regis’ return to work, his employer requested additional written documentation from Mr. Regis because neither Mr. Regis nor his mother were mentioned anywhere in the obituary. Mr. Regis explained to his employer that he was left out of the obituary purposely by a disgruntled aunt, no other documentary evidence existed and that he “did not want to put his family business out there.” In lieu of the requested additional written documents that Mr. Regis claimed did not exist, Mr. Regis provided his employer with names and telephone numbers of family members who could confirm his familial relationship to the decedent. There was no evidence on the record that the employer contacted these individuals before the employer terminated Mr. Regis for exceeding the ten points allowed in the attendance point program. Mr. Regis’ only exceeded the allotted points because his employer retracted his approval of the leave requested to attend the funeral.

The Appeal Tribunal determined that Mr. Regis’ “failure to provide the additional documents” constituted severe misconduct and upheld the initial determination that Mr. Regis was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. The Board of Review upheld the Appeal Tribunals determination finding that the cause of Mr. Regis’ discharge was unapproved absences because he failed to furnish the necessary documentation that the funeral he attended was in fact that of his grandfather.

In reviewing this decision the Appellate Division stated that it could not conclude that the Board’s final decision could have reasonably been reached on sufficient credible evidence because of the ambiguity regarding the familial relationship and the employer’s policy on documentation of absences. Specifically, the court noted the Appeal Tribunal and the employer did not pursue Mr. Regis’ offer of family members to confirm his relationship to the deceased. Although this duty would not be imposed on an employer, the court found there were not enough facts established to determine whether there was an alternative to confirm the relationship. The court also noted that the Board of Review failed to identify if it was severe misconduct for Mr. Regis to be absent without proving the legitimacy of his absence. Due to the ambiguity of these crucial facts in the record, the Appellate Division vacated the lower court’s ruling and remanded the case.

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