On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor, 99-B-04658- 000-X0.
Before Judges Petrella, Newman and Wells.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Petrella, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
In this appeal, claimant Jose J. Bonilla challenges a decision by the Board of Review (Board) upholding the Appeal Tribunal's ruling that he was not entitled to additional unemployment benefits during training (ABT). On appeal, Bonilla argues that he was improperly denied additional benefits because there was a "substantial reduction" in work opportunities that entitled him to additional benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-60 and N.J.A.C. 12:23-5.1.
Bonilla filed a claim for unemployment benefits on January 3, 1999. He was declared eligible and received benefits for the full twenty-six week period allowable at a weekly benefit rate of $289. Thereafter, he filed for additional benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-60.
On July 13, 1999, the Division of Unemployment Insurance declared Bonilla ineligible for ABT under the Workforce Development Partnership Program, on the ground that he left his former job for a reason other than lack of work.
Bonilla was employed by Zago Manufacturing Co., Inc. in Newark from August 16, 1996 to December 31, 1998. He claims he suffered numerous adverse health effects from the chemical fumes in the factory where he worked. Bonilla asserts that his employer told him he would be assigned to a room separate from the company floor so that he would not be exposed to the industrial fumes. However, Bonilla testified that his employer never took such action and that he continued to work in an unhealthy environment where he was exposed to fumes. Bonilla claims that he contacted the Labor Department, OSHA and other agencies, but received no assistance.
Dr. Rafael Latorre examined Bonilla and certified that he suffered headaches and hypertension, but that he was able to work in places with a less chemically contaminated environment. Bonilla claims he left his job for health reasons and because of his doctor's recommendation that he change jobs so that he could work in a healthier environment. He also asserts that the company he worked for used toxic chemical solvents known to cause various illnesses.
At the hearing before the Appeal Tribunal, Bonilla testified that he began attending a computer graphics school in August 1999 and expected to complete the course in December 1999. The Appeal Tribunal affirmed the determination of the Deputy, finding that there was no substantial reduction in work opportunities at Bonilla's former worksite and that his separation from work was an isolated separation due to his leaving. Thus, the Appeal Tribunal concluded that Bonilla was ineligible for additional unemployment benefits during training under the New Jersey Workforce Development Act (N.J.S.A. 43:21-57 et seq.). The Board of Review affirmed the decision of the Appeal Tribunal on the basis of the record below.
Reviewing courts generally give considerable weight to an agency's interpretation of a statute the agency is charged with enforcing, although appellate courts are not bound by an agency interpretation of a strictly legal issue. G.S. v. Department of Human Servs., 157 N.J. 161, 170 (1999) (citing Mayflower Securities Co. v. Bureau of Securities in Division of Consumer Affairs of Dept. of Law and Public Safety, 64 N.J. 85, 93 (1973)).
Bonilla argues that he is entitled to additional benefits during training because he left his job for health reasons.
It is well-settled that the claimant normally has the burden of establishing entitlement to unemployment compensation. Combs v. Board of Review, 269 N.J. Super. 616, 624 (App. Div. 1994). This applies to ABT claims under N.J.S.A. 43:21-60, which provides, in pertinent ...