Newland v. Job Service North Dakota

Decision Date09 August 1990
Docket NumberNo. 890348,890348
Citation460 N.W.2d 118
PartiesJoy NEWLAND, Petitioner and Appellant, v. JOB SERVICE NORTH DAKOTA, and Dakco Distributing, Inc., d.b.a. Dakota Drug, Inc., Respondents and Appellees. Civ.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Richard Roy LeMay (argued), Legal Assistance of North Dakota, Minot, for petitioner and appellant.

David Ernest Clinton (argued), Asst. Atty. Gen., Bismarck, for respondent and appellee Job Service North Dakota.

Jonathan C. Eaton of Eaton, Van de Streek & Ward, Minot, for respondent and appellee Dakota Drug, Inc. Submitted on brief.

LEVINE, Justice.

Joy Newland appeals from a district court order affirming Job Service's decision denying unemployment compensation benefits. We reverse and remand to the agency.

Newland, a resident of Burlington, North Dakota, was employed for approximately one-and-a-half years as a utility clerk and order filler for Dakota Drug, Inc., a wholesale supply company in Minot. Her work hours were from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. On January 1, 1989, Newland was informed that as of February 26, her hours of employment would change. Her new shift would run from at least 4:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. or later, as required to complete the work. The change in shift did not involve either an increase or reduction in hours because Newland was to come in early or work later as necessary to maintain her customary forty-hour work week. However, the time when work was to begin or end each day was unpredictable and uncertain.

On February 27, Newland filed a claim for unemployment benefits, stating, "The company went to night filling. My husband works nights and with three children it would not work out for me to work nights."

Job Service denied unemployment benefits, concluding that Newland left her employment without good cause attributable to her employer. The agency found that Newland quit because, in light of the cost of child care in her community, "it was not economically practical for her to continue to work." The agency reasoned that parental obligations were personal reasons that lacked an objective nexus with employment so as to constitute good cause attributable to the employer.

Newland attacks that finding as incomplete, claiming that economics was not the only cause for leaving and argues that the agency erred in concluding that she voluntarily quit her job without good cause attributable to her employer. We agree.

Section 28-32-19, NDCC, governs the scope of our review of administrative agency decisions. The question whether a claimant quit without good cause attributable to her employer is a factual conclusion. Erovick v. Job Service North Dakota, 409 N.W.2d 629, 631 (N.D.1987). Our review of factual conclusions is limited to a determination of whether those findings of fact are supported by a preponderance of evidence. Id. We do not make independent findings of fact or substitute our judgment for that of the agency but determine only whether a reasoning mind could have reasonably determined that the factual conclusion was supported by the weight of the evidence. Id. Questions of law are fully reviewable. Batla v. N.D.S.U., 370 N.W.2d 554, 557 (N.D.1985).

Two statutes, sections 52-01-05 and 52-06-02, guide our review of Job Service's decision. Section 52-01-05 declares the public policy supporting a system of unemployment compensation in our State. It provides:

"Involuntary unemployment creates a hardship on the unemployed worker and his family and leads to a state of economic insecurity. Relief from problems of involuntary unemployment imposes a statewide burden of serious consequence to the people of the state of North Dakota which can best be met by unemployment insurance for the working man who becomes unemployed through no fault of his own. The legislative assembly, therefore, declares that the public good and general welfare of the citizens of the state requires that for laboring people genuinely attached to the labor market there be a systematic and compulsory setting aside of financial reserves to be used as compensation for loss of wages during periods when they become unemployed through no fault of their own."

Thus, under the statute, as long as a worker exhibits a genuine commitment to working and is unemployed through no fault of his or her own, that worker is entitled to receive unemployment compensation. See Perske v. Job Service North Dakota, 336 N.W.2d 146 (N.D.1983). It is the public policy of this State to soften the harsh impact of involuntary unemployment.

Tempering that public policy is section 52-06-02 which limits the availability of benefits:

"An individual is disqualified for benefits:

"1. For the week in which he has left his most recent employment voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer, and thereafter until such time as he:

"a. Can demonstrate that he has earned remuneration for personal services in employment equivalent to at least eight times his weekly benefit amount as determined under section 52-06-04; and

"b. Has not left his most recent employment under disqualifying circumstances."

This section relieves employers from responsibility for benefits to employees who quit for causes unconnected with work. See Lord v. Job Service North Dakota, 343 N.W.2d 92 (N.D.1984).

We construe together statutes relating to the same subject matter so as to harmonize them if possible and give full force and effect to legislative intent. Dickinson Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Scott, 252 N.W.2d 216, 219 (N.D.1977). We believe sections 52-01-05 and 52-06-02 indicate that the Legislature, in enunciating a public policy to provide unemployment compensation, intended to strike a balance between the rights of the unemployed worker who genuinely wants to work, contained in section 52-01-05, and the protection of the former employer from quits that have nothing to do with the employer or the employment, furthered by section 52-06-02. Job Service, in determining eligibility for compensation, must be attuned to that balance, and so must we. However, because unemployment compensation laws are remedial legislation, the balance should be struck in favor of the employee. E.g., Holman v. Olsten Corp., 389 N.W.2d 236, 238 (Minn.Ct.App.1986); McClain v. State Dept. of Indus. Relations, 405 So.2d 34 (Ala.Civ.App.1981); Osterhout v. Everett, 6 Ark.App. 216, 639 S.W.2d 539 (1982); Stern v. Industrial Comm'n, 667 P.2d 244 (Colo.Ct.App.1983). Cf. e.g., Lass v. N.D. Work. Comp. Bureau, 415 N.W.2d 796 (N.D.1987) [workers compensation Act is construed liberally in favor of injured workers extending benefits to all who can fairly be brought within them]. Remedial statutes must be liberally construed in favor of the purposes obviously intended. Smith v. Hoff, 20 N.D. 419, 127 N.W. 1047 (1910).

Obviously, both Job Service and this Court must construe the governing statutes to promote the public policy of this State. Unemployment benefits are to be awarded to those "laboring people genuinely attached to the labor market" who become unemployed "through no fault of their own." NDCC Sec. 52-01-05; Perske v. Job Service North Dakota, 336 N.W.2d 146 (N.D.1983).

Newland introduced evidence of three reasons for her quitting:

1. A substantial change in work hours;

2. The unavailability of child care in her community after 7:00 p.m.; and

3. The prohibitive cost of child care.

Where a claimant has adequately informed the agency of all her asserted reasons for quitting, she is entitled to have Job Service consider each of those reasons. Taylor v. Iowa Dept. of Job Service, 362 N.W.2d 534, 539 (Iowa 1985). Nothing in our unemployment compensation law suggests that a claimant must rest her entire claim to compensation on one reason for quitting a job. Indeed, in Sonterre v. Job Service North Dakota, 379 N.W.2d 281 (N.D.1985), Job Service considered all three reasons given by the claimant for quitting and we upheld the agency's decision that none of the reasons was attributable to the employer. One of the reasons Sonterre alleged for the quit was insufficient notice of the shift change. We upheld, inter alia, the agency's factual determinations that Sonterre was given sufficient notice to adjust to her new shift by arranging for child care and her quit was therefore not for good cause attributable to the employer. A reasonable implication of these findings is that had the employer given unreasonably short notice resulting in Sonterre's inability to secure child care, thereby necessitating her leaving work, the result would have been different. Although child care may not by itself be a condition attributable to the employer, it may in combination with other factors constitute good cause for quitting attributable to the employer.

Thus, where several reasons are asserted, Job Service must consider all reasons which may have combined to give the claimant good cause to quit, then consider whether any of those reasons was a cause attributable to the employer. Id., Taylor, 362 N.W.2d at 541. See also Eckart v. Industrial Claims Appeals Office, 775 P.2d 97 (Colo.Ct.App.1989). If any good-cause reason, supported by sufficient evidence, is attributable to the employer, then benefits should be awarded notwithstanding the existence of other disqualifying reasons. However, in order to qualify for benefits, the employee must have made a good faith effort to remain "attached to the labor market" but did not succeed through "no fault" of her own. See NDCC Sec. 52-01-05. "Fault" in the context of section 52-01-05 means failure to make reasonable efforts to preserve one's employment. We believe that this procedure promotes the public policy that unemployment compensation be provided to persons unemployed through no fault of their own. It also implements the principle that remedial statutes be construed liberally to effectuate the public policy articulated in them.

In the instant case, Job Service purported to find but one reason...

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  • Carlson v. Job Service North Dakota
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    ...compensation is available to a worker who is unemployed through no fault of her own. Chapter 52-06, N.D.C.C.; Newland v. Job Service North Dakota, 460 N.W.2d 118 (N.D.l990). However, under Section 52-06-02, N.D.C.C., a worker is disqualified from receiving benefits if she voluntarily quits ......
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