Unemployment Benefits Denied When Pharmacist Quits Work Because of Stress

FEBRUARY 01, 2005
Larry M. Simonsmeier, JD, RPh

Issue of the Case: A Washington appellate court was asked, in this month's case, to determine whether a pharmacist who voluntarily quit her job because of stress induced by 12-hour shifts is entitled to unemployment benefits.

Facts of the Case:

Jane Doe worked as a pharmacist for a pharmacy chain that underwent a change in ownership. During this transition period, Doe experienced staff turnover and stresses that often occur with new management. She inquired about a move to another pharmacy and was told that a position was available, but she would be the pharmacist-manager working 12-hour shifts as the only pharmacist on duty.

Doe accepted the promotion. Soon after her transfer to the new store, she began experiencing pain in her legs, blurry vision, and depression because of the 12-hour shifts, low staffing levels, and concerns about errors by her relief pharmacist. In response to these concerns, Doe's supervisor scheduled additional help for her even though he did not have the budget to do so. He also advised Doe to delegate more of her duties to the technicians and to take a break when she could. In addition, he offered to return her to her former position as a pharmacist with an 8- hour shift. Doe declined the offer.

After 2 months in her new position, Doe resigned. She filed for unemployment benefits, which were initially granted but then denied after a hearing at the request of her employer in front of the state Employment Security Commission.

The Court's Ruling:

Doe appealed the denial of unemployment benefits to the trial court. It affirmed the decision of the Employment Security Commission. On appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals also concluded that, under the facts of this case, Doe was not entitled to unemployment benefits. It rejected her request for a new trial and consideration of new evidence.

The Court's Reasoning:

Doe asked the court to remand the case to the trial court for consideration of new evidence. Doe cited a Seattle newspaper article about staffing shortages and increased errors in pharmacies across the country. She also uncovered an agreement between her employer and the Board of Pharmacy, in which the chain agreed to pay a fine and review its methods of ensuring appropriate personnel in each of its pharmacies.

A court may reverse the decision of an administrative agency such as the Employment Security Commission if it is not supported by substantial evidence or the order is arbitrary or capricious. In this case, the order from the Board of Pharmacy was not evidence of a statutory violation, nor was it evidence of specific conditions at the pharmacy where Doe worked. Likewise, the newspaper article was not relevant. Generalized problems pervasive in an industry are not evidence of specific conditions at the store where Doe worked.

Doe next argued that the evidence supported the fact that she quit for good cause. In its review of the facts, the court noted that she accepted the promotion knowing that it involved 12-hour shifts. Further, she did not consult a physician for her physical symptoms; she was provided with additional help; and she declined to return to her 8-hour position.

Evidence was introduced that, although the conditions in the store were stressful, the pharmacy was functioning satisfactorily and the stresses were usual and customary within the practice of pharmacy. For claimants to be successful in collecting unemployment, they must show that they left because of work-connected factors. Doe knew the conditions of employment before she accepted the job and was not entitled to benefits when she quit.

Larry M. Simonsmeier is Emeritus Professor of Pharmacy Law at Washington State University College of Pharmacy.