Mace v. Dep't of Labor (Punger Enters.), 22-AP-003

Case DateJune 17, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

Brian Mace

Department of Labor (Punger Enterprises LLC)

No. 22-AP-003

Supreme Court of Vermont

June 17, 2022

In the case title, an asterisk (*) indicates an appellant and a double asterisk (**) indicates a cross-appellant. Decisions of a three-justice panel are not to be considered as precedent before any tribunal.

APPEALED FROM: Employment Security Board CASE NO. 01-21-180-01


In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

Claimant appeals an order of the Employment Security Board concluding that claimant was obligated to repay unemployment benefits because he failed, without good cause, to accept an offer of suitable, available work, and misrepresented or failed to disclose a material fact related to his receipt of benefits. We reverse and remand

The Board's repayment order and claimant's arguments on appeal stem from amendments to the unemployment benefits statute made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under existing statutory provisions, unemployed individuals are eligible for benefits when they do not leave work voluntarily. While receiving benefits, unemployed individuals may be disqualified from benefits if they refuse suitable work without good cause. 21 V.S.A. § 1344(a)(2)(C). In March 2020, the Legislature enacted emergency legislation adding COVID-related provisions to Vermont's unemployment scheme. See 2019, No. 91 (Adj. Sess.), § 31 (eff. Mar. 30, 2020). The revised statute provided, among other things, that individuals were not disqualified from benefits if they left their job to care for a child whose school was closed or whose "child care provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency related to COVID-19." 21 V.S.A. § 1344(a)(2)(A)(vi) (eff. Mar. 30, 2020, to Mar. 31, 2021). Individuals who fail to make efforts to secure suitable work without good cause or who misrepresent a material fact related to receipt of benefits must repay amounts that were received while ineligible. Id. § 1347(a), (c). Similarly, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) statute requires individuals to repay amounts where the individual makes a false statement or misrepresentation or was not entitled to benefits. 15 U.S.C. § 9023(f)(1), (2). The question in this appeal is whether claimant was obligated to repay benefits because he received an offer of suitable work and lacked good cause for refusing it or made a material misrepresentation related to the receipt of benefits and was ineligible for benefits at the time.

The Board made the following findings. Claimant worked as a laborer for Punger Enterprises, a construction company, until mid-March 2020 when employer laid him off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 15, 2020, employer asked claimant to return to his position on April 20, 2020. Claimant declined, explaining that he wanted to return but lacked childcare for his ten-year-old son, whose school was closed due to the pandemic. Claimant shared custody


with his ex-wife and, prior to the pandemic, claimant's father cared for his son during non-school hours. In April 2020, claimant's father declined to care for claimant's son due to the risk of contracting COVID. In early May 2020, employer again asked claimant to return to work, and claimant agreed to return on May 18. Claimant agreed on the basis that his fiancée could provide childcare for his son after that date. Claimant did not, however, return to work on that date because he and his fiancée broke up on May 17 and he was again left without childcare. In late May 2020, claimant told employer he could return on June 1 because claimant's father felt comfortable caring for claimant's son. Employer told claimant he did...

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