What Are Unfavorable Working Conditions?
An employer has the right to set rules and conditions in the workplace. These rules and conditions make up the work environment for employees. Most of the time, favorable conditions for workers are consistent with an efficient, productive workplace. But sometimes, an employee encounters less than favorable conditions in a workplace.
Typical responses are to merely put up with it, to tell a supervisor something is wrong or to start looking for a new job while tolerating less than favorable conditions until something better is found. Some employers agree to correct unfavorable conditions. Others do not.
Conditions are sometimes so adverse, an employee might decide to quit the job and leave unfavorable working conditions behind before they have a new job lined up. In some circumstances, a worker can quit because of adverse working conditions and still collect unemployment benefits. The question often arirses, when can an employee leave unfavorable working conditions and still protect their unemployment benefits?
State and federal employment law requires that an employer provide a safe workplace. In many cases, unsafe conditions may be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials. While unfavorable working conditions encompass unsafe conditions, safety is not the only factor that can make a workplace unworkable. Some unfavorable conditions give rise to good cause to quit a job, and others do not.
The key is determining the reasonableness of an employer’s rules and conditions. If an employee finds a rule to be one that the employee disagrees with, that in and of itself does not give rise to a good cause to quit under Oklahoma unemployment law. However, if the rule or condition is detrimental to one’s safety, health or morals, that can give rise to leaving work with good cause.
The detriment can be to one’s physical or mental health. In general, the employee must prove this element, usually by using some sort of physical evidence such as medical records or a doctor’s report outlining the symptoms.
An employee must also show that he or she took all reasonable steps to protect their job. That might include reporting unsafe conditions to the employer and allowing time for the situation to be remedied. The employee must show that the only relief available was to quit and the conditions must be considered to be intolerable by a reasonable person. This might include such situations as harassment, discrimination, rampant drug use on the job by other employees, or physical or emotional abuse. Merely not getting along with a boss or other employees is not enough.
In one Oklahoma unemployment appeal case in which an employee had her job duties redefined by a new workplace director, her income dropped, and the worker had work assigned to her outside of her job description, yet benefits were denied. The employee tried to resolve the problem with the director but was told to just show up at work the following day. She called the office manager and quit her job. When she filed for benefits, she did not provide any medical documentation of her stress, nor did she provide evidence that her stress was related to her job. She did not meet her burden of proof. (97 AT 06214)
Benefits were also denied in a case in which an employee left work after his employer promoted a fellow employee over him. The Board held that the employee’s duties changed constantly and that the employee did not complain until the filing for benefits. (97 AT 5814 BR)
However, benefits were allowed in a case in which an employee quit because of a drug problem on the employer’s premises. The employer agreed that there was a drug problem in the workplace. No one should have to work in an environment where there is a problem with illegal drugs or impaired coworkers. (80 BR 1843)
Good cause was also shown in a case in which the employee was falsely accused of being a liar in front of other employees. The employee was accused of serving food from the trash when in fact it had been prepared by the cook and the employee served the food prepared by the cook. Benefits were allowed. (81 BR 705)
Benefits were denied in a case in which the employee had worked for an employer for the past 14 years. She resigned and accepted a separation agreement offered by her employer. She had quit due to harassment from her supervisor and mistreatment from other employees. However, she did not adhere to the grievance procedure outlined by her union. She never completed an application for transfer. Benefits were denied. (97 AT 1034)
These cases hinge on a broad array of facts which all look to the reasonableness of the employee’s behavior, the reasonableness of the employer’s behavior and whether the employee has proven that his or her quitting was with good cause.
If you are facing unfavorable working conditions and are considering quitting, or if you have already quit and are wondering about benefits, consult with an Tulsa, Oklahoma employment attorney. Oklahoma Unemployment Experts provides consultation and representation for unemployment matters anywhere in Oklahoma.
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