Chavis v. Wal-Mart Assocs., ED110016

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtGary M. Gaertner, Jr., J.
PartiesGEORGE CHAVIS, Appellant, v. WAL-MART ASSOCIATES, INC. and DIVISION OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, Respondents.
Docket NumberED110016
Decision Date07 June 2022

GEORGE CHAVIS, Appellant,
v.

WAL-MART ASSOCIATES, INC. and DIVISION OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, Respondents.

No. ED110016

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

June 7, 2022


Appeal from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission Case No. 2149413

Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., J.

Introduction

George Chavis (Claimant) appeals the decision of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (Commission) denying him unemployment compensation. The Commission concluded that Claimant voluntarily left his employment and was therefore not entitled to unemployment benefits. Because this conclusion is unsupported by sufficient competent evidence in the record, we reverse.

Background

Claimant worked in the lawn and garden department at a Wal-Mart location in Jackson, Missouri (Employer). Claimant's employment began on April 16, 2020 and

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ended on August 25, 2020. Claimant applied to the Division of Employment Security (Division) for unemployment benefits. A deputy denied Claimant's application, finding that he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to Employer.

Claimant appealed the deputy's decision, and the Appeals Tribunal conducted a telephone hearing on June 2, 2021. Employer did not participate in the hearing, and only Claimant testified. Claimant testified as follows. While working a shift in the lawn and garden department on August 25, 2020, Claimant fell ill. Claimant reported his illness to his direct supervisor, who told Claimant he could go home if he wanted to. After testing positive for COVID-19 the next day, Claimant called and informed his direct supervisor of his illness. Claimant's direct supervisor advised him to call Wal-Mart headquarters and request paid leave. Claimant testified that there was a verbal policy put in place during the pandemic allowing employees who became sick with COVID-19 to contact headquarters to obtain paid leave.

Claimant testified he contacted Employer's headquarters, and after telling headquarters "the whole situation," the person he spoke with "turned it around on me and said I voluntarily left." Claimant stated this person also told him that his "manager was not higher enough up to give [him] permission to go home." Claimant further explained, "she basically said I didn't tell no one." Claimant testified he attempted to call the human resources department to get back on the schedule. Claimant testified that when he called human resources, "she always put me off and never talked to me." He said he initially did not request unemployment benefits because he expected to return to work. Claimant testified that he checked the online application on his phone that showed the employee

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schedules, and when he saw he had not been scheduled to work, he called to let them know that as well.

Employer did not participate in the hearing. The only evidence in the record from Employer is the questionnaire submitted by Employer to the Division, which stated that Claimant voluntarily left employment: "The claimant is considered to abandon his or her job after failing to return to work." The questionnaire continued as follows:

Was continuing to work available? Yes
Did the claimant take actions to avoid quitting? No

It appears Claimant did not submit responses to the Division's questionnaire. The deputy who denied Claimant's initial application had given the following rationale for the decision, which was part of the record before the Appeals Tribunal:

Per the employer, the claimant abandoned his job which is therefore a voluntary quit. Disqualified. The claimant quit because of unknown reasons. The claimant did not provide information to the division when given the opportunity

The Appeals Tribunal found that on his last day of work, Claimant notified his direct supervisor that he was ill and received approval to go home, "but [Claimant] did not inform the proper, senior manager of this leave." The Appeals Tribunal further found that Claimant "never contacted human resources to inform the employer of said leave and eventual COVID-19 diagnosed sickness." The Appeals Tribunal concluded that Claimant "voluntarily separated from work after leaving work due to being ill," and Claimant "exhibited voluntariness by failing to have any contact with the employer after leaving." Thus, the Appeals Tribunal concluded Claimant voluntarily left work without good cause attributable to the work or Employer. Claimant appealed, and the Commission affirmed and adopted the decision of the Appeals Tribunal. This appeal follows.

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Standard of Review

Appellate review of an award made by the Commission is governed by Section 288.210.[1] Turner v. Mitch Murch's Maint. Mgmt. Co., 436 S.W.3d 222, 225 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013). While we defer to the Commission on all factual issues that are supported by competent and substantial evidence, we owe no deference to the Commission's conclusions of law or application of the law to the facts. Id. at 226. We may modify, reverse, remand for hearing, or set aside the decision only under the following circumstances:

(1) the Commission acted without or in excess of its powers,
(2) the decision was procured by fraud,
(3) the facts found by the Commission do not support the award, or
(4) there was no sufficient competent evidence in
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