August 13, 2008
RHODA GOODMAN, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW AND UNION OB-GYN INFERTILITY GROUP, PA, RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 160,909.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 5, 2008
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Baxter.
Petitioner Rhoda Goodman appeals from the denial of unemployment compensation benefits. She argues that the Board of Review's (Board) decision was erroneous because her employer should have permitted her to return to work after she recovered from a non work-related compression fracture of the spine. She argued that because she had worked at the office in question for nearly twenty years, "she should have been given more consideration" and the Board's decision to the contrary was error. We affirm.
Goodman was employed by respondent Union OB-GYN Infertility Group, PA (Union) until she resigned on January 12, 2007.*fn1
Goodman's employment with Union began in the mid-1980's and continued for seventeen years. She worked elsewhere for three years and returned to Union in September 2005. She resigned on January 12, 2007, because the severe pain in her back from a non work-related injury made it impossible for her to perform her work that required her to file documents and climb a step ladder. Once Goodman resigned her position in January 2007, she collected disability benefits for approximately six months. When those benefits were exhausted, Goodman filed an application for unemployment on July 22, 2007.
When her physician advised her in September 2007 that she was medically able to return to work, Goodman spoke with the office manager at Union about returning to work part-time. She was advised that Union had filled her position once she resigned in January and that there were no positions available.
Based upon the testimony before the appeals examiner, the Appeal Tribunal concluded that Goodman was ineligible for benefits from July 22, 2007, through September 9, 2007, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c) because she was medically unable to work; and ineligible for benefits from September 9, 2007, and thereafter pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because she had not accumulated a sufficient amount of covered employment in the preceding weeks.
Goodman filed a timely appeal with the Board, which on November 29, 2007, rendered a final decision affirming the decision of the Appeal Tribunal, again finding that Goodman was disqualified for benefits.
The Board's determination must be affirmed unless it is "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable," or is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). In determining whether an agency decision is supported by substantial credible evidence, we are obliged to accord deference to the Board's fact-finding. Associated Util. Servs. v. Bd. of Review, 131 N.J. Super. 585, 588 (App. Div. 1974).
A section of the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Law (Act), N.J.S.A. 43:21-4 provides:
An unemployed individual shall be eligible to receive benefits with respect to any week only if the individual is able to work . . . . [N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c)(1).]
The policy of the Act is to provide relief for persons who are involuntarily unemployed, not to provide insurance against the consequences of illness. Valenti v. Bd. of Review, 4 N.J. 287, 290 (1950). To qualify for unemployment benefits, "it is essential that the unemployed claimant be 'able to work' and 'available for work.'" Ibid. (quoting N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c)). A claimant must be "capable of employment" and "able, willing and ready to accept 'suitable work.'" Ibid.
Here, we are satisfied that the Board correctly concluded that after Goodman exhausted her disability benefits at the end of June 2007, she did not return to work at Union and was unable to do so because she was still suffering severe back pain. Not until Goodman's physician declared her fit to return to work on September 11, 2007, did she satisfy the "able to work" requirement of N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c)(1). The record supports the Board's conclusion that Goodman's medical condition was neither caused by nor aggravated by her work or that her job duties made it harder for her to recover. Consequently, she was disqualified for unemployment benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-4 from July 22 through September 11, 2007.
We turn next to Goodman's contention that once she was able to return to work in September 2007, Union was obliged to permit her to do so. Goodman has provided no statutory or case law authority to support that proposition. In rejecting Goodman's claim for unemployment compensation benefits commencing in September 2007, the Board relied upon N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), which provides that a claimant is disqualified for benefits:
[f]or the week in which the individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work, and for each week thereafter until the individual becomes reemployed and works four weeks in employment . . . and has earned in employment at least six times the individual's weekly benefit rate . . . . [N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) (emphasis added).]
Although Goodman was medically able to work starting on September 11, 2007, the Board determined that she was nonetheless disqualified for benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because she had not worked for four weeks and accumulated the equivalent of six times her prior salary as required by that statute. The Board's conclusion that Goodman was ineligible for benefits from September 11, 2007, through September 15, 2007, because she had not accumulated the requisite number of eligible days and had left work voluntarily without good cause that was attributable to the work itself is supported by substantial credible evidence in the record.
Moreover, as we have observed, Goodman has provided no legal authority to support her contention that an employer is obliged to re-hire an employee who previously resigned her position due to illness.