Unemployment Benefits Denied When Pharmacist Quits Work Because of Stress

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0, 0

Issue of the Case:A Washington appellate court wasasked, in this month's case, to determinewhether a pharmacist who voluntarilyquit her job because of stressinduced by 12-hour shifts is entitled tounemployment benefits.

Facts of the Case:

Jane Doe worked as a pharmacistfor a pharmacy chain that underwenta change in ownership. Duringthis transition period, Doe experiencedstaff turnover and stresses thatoften occur with new management.She inquired about a move to anotherpharmacy and was told that aposition was available, but shewould be the pharmacist-managerworking 12-hour shifts as the onlypharmacist on duty.

Doe accepted the promotion. Soonafter her transfer to the new store,she began experiencing pain in herlegs, blurry vision, and depressionbecause of the 12-hour shifts, lowstaffing levels, and concerns abouterrors by her relief pharmacist. Inresponse to these concerns, Doe'ssupervisor scheduled additional helpfor her even though he did not havethe budget to do so. He also advisedDoe to delegate more of her duties tothe technicians and to take a breakwhen she could. In addition, heoffered to return her to her formerposition as a pharmacist with an 8-hour shift. Doe declined the offer.

After 2 months in her new position,Doe resigned. She filed for unemploymentbenefits, which were initiallygranted but then denied after a hearingat the request of her employer infront of the state Employment SecurityCommission.

The Court's Ruling:

Doe appealed the denial of unemploymentbenefits to the trial court. Itaffirmed the decision of the EmploymentSecurity Commission. On appeal,the Washington Court of Appealsalso concluded that, under the facts ofthis case, Doe was not entitled tounemployment benefits. It rejectedher request for a new trial and considerationof new evidence.

The Court's Reasoning:

Doe asked the court to remand thecase to the trial court for considerationof new evidence. Doe cited a Seattlenewspaper article about staffing shortagesand increased errors in pharmaciesacross the country. She also uncoveredan agreement between her employerand the Board of Pharmacy, in whichthe chain agreed to pay a fine andreview its methods of ensuring appropriatepersonnel in each of its pharmacies.

A court may reverse the decision ofan administrative agency such as theEmployment Security Commission ifit is not supported by substantial evidenceor the order is arbitrary or capricious.In this case, the order from theBoard of Pharmacy was not evidenceof a statutory violation, nor was it evidenceof specific conditions at thepharmacy where Doe worked. Likewise,the newspaper article was notrelevant. Generalized problems pervasivein an industry are not evidence ofspecific conditions at the store whereDoe worked.

Doe next argued that the evidencesupported the fact that she quit forgood cause. In its review of the facts,the court noted that she accepted thepromotion knowing that it involved12-hour shifts. Further, she did notconsult a physician for her physicalsymptoms; she was provided withadditional help; and she declined toreturn to her 8-hour position.

Evidence was introduced that,although the conditions in the storewere stressful, the pharmacy was functioningsatisfactorily and the stresseswere usual and customary within thepractice of pharmacy. For claimants tobe successful in collecting unemployment,they must show that they leftbecause of work-connected factors. Doeknew the conditions of employmentbefore she accepted the job and was notentitled to benefits when she quit.

Larry M. Simonsmeier isEmeritus Professor ofPharmacy Law atWashington State UniversityCollege of Pharmacy.