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August 06, 2010

Employee’s resigning after refusing to comply with employer’s policy not always a “disqualifying event" for unemployment insurance purposes

Employee’s resigning after refusing to comply with employer’s policy not always a “disqualifying event" for unemployment insurance purposes
Emery v Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Ctr., 2010 NY Slip Op 06333, decided on August 5, 2010, Appellate Division, Third Department

Jean M. Emery worked as a per diem clinical registered nurse in the presurgical unit objected to Sloan Kettering’s new policy that required nurses to acknowledge that they had witnessed patients sign an informed consent form, regardless of whether they actually witnessed the signature or simply confirmed the signature with the patient after the fact.

Emery, who was also an attorney, believed that compliance could subject her to professional discipline and when she was instructed to adhere to the policy and that no change was imminent, she asked to be removed from the nursing schedule and, in the words of the court, “effectively resigned.”

Although her application for unemployment insurance benefits was initially denied on the theory that “she was disqualified for having left her employment without good cause,” a Workers’ Compensation Board Administrative Law Judge reversed the determination ruling that Emery was entitled to benefits because Sloan Kettering failing to address her valid concerns gave her good cause to leave her employment. The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board upheld the ALJ’s determination and Sloan Kettering appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s decision. The court said that determining if good cause exists for a claimant to leave employment is a factual issue to be resolved by the Board, and “its determination will not be disturbed if supported by substantial evidence, notwithstanding the fact that evidence exists that would support a different result.”

Here, said the court, there was substantial evidence to support the determination that the employer failed to respond to Emery's concerns within a reasonable time. The Appellate Division also noted that Sloan Kettering’s general counsel admitted that a professional disciplinary complaint could be filed against an employee who adhered to the policy.

Ultimately, said the Appellate Division, Sloan Kettering’s policy underlying Emery’s objection was changed and “the informed consent form modified … to acknowledge the difference between witnessing and verifying a signature," primarily in response to Emery’s complaints.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_06333.htm

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