January 15, 2010
PRABHAT KUMAR, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND CREDIT RESEARCH INCORPORATED, RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 191,719.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 27, 2009
Before Judges Grall and LeWinn.
Appellant, Prabhat Kumar, appeals from the September 30, 2008 final decision of the Board of Review (Board) affirming the Appeal Tribunal's decision that he is disqualified for unemployment benefits because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. We affirm.
Appellant was employed by Credit Research Inc., from February 1998 until he left on May 16, 2008; he held a full-time position as a credit analyst, earning $33,000 per year. Before the Tribunal, appellant first testified that he was laid off because the company was downsizing; however, he also stated that he was "being bullied to leave work with a bad attitude." Appellant described working for his boss as "a dictatorship[,]" but explained that he remained in his employ for ten years because his boss had applied for his green card and he "was stuck there." Appellant stated that he had a "constructive layoff. Like if somebody [is] bullying me to leave the job after he said he is going to close the business."
On his last day of employment, appellant testified that his boss "bullied him" because he "did not train . . . people in India" when he was on vacation there, and for not relocating the company's office to Belle Meade, New Jersey. On that day, appellant decided that he just "could [not] take it" any more. He also claimed to suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes related to stress at his employment, but produced no supporting medical evidence.
The hearing examiner concluded that appellant had presented "no evidence that [his] working conditions were so severe for [him] to end the employee-employer relationship." Finding that appellant had "not shown good cause for leaving his job[,]" the examiner ruled that he was "disqualified for benefits as of 05/11/08 in accordance with [N.J.S.A.] 43:21-5(a), as he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work."
The Board reviewed the matter on the record before the Tribunal and "agree[d] with the decision reached." The Board concluded that "[s]ince . . . appellant was given a full and impartial hearing and a complete opportunity to offer any and all evidence, there is no valid ground for a further hearing."
On appeal, appellant argues that he had "good cause to leave his employment because he was harassed, demeaned, abused and subjected to public humiliation." He contends that the "Board's finding that [he] was not subjected to a hostile work environment because he accepted the environment for ten years is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable."
Having reviewed these contentions in light of the record and the controlling legal principles, we are convinced they are without merit. We note initially that our authority to review administrative agency decisions is limited. "Unless a [c]court finds that the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, the agency's ruling should not be disturbed." Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). We do not substitute our judgment for that of the agency, even if we would come to a different conclusion. In re Carter, 191 N.J. 474, 483 (2007).
Appellant testified that, notwithstanding continual harassment and bullying by his boss over a ten-year period of employment, he believed he could not work for another employer because he did not possess a green card. The record, however, reflects that appellant received his green card in 2007 and remained employed at Credit Research for another nine months. On his last day, appellant abruptly resigned without notice, claiming that he felt disrespected and humiliated because he had been criticized in front of another company employee.
On this record, we are satisfied that the Board's endorsement of the Tribunal's findings is supported "by sufficient credible evidence," and, therefore, we "are obliged to accept" that decision. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210. Only when it is "established to the agency's satisfaction that [a] claimant's unemployed status was the direct result of the employer's conduct rather than claimant's own choice," will the resultant unemployment "be seen to be attributable to the work as contemplated by [N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a)], and [a] claimant [will be] eligible for benefits thereunder." Gerber v. Bd. of Review, 313 N.J. Super. 37, 39 (App. Div. 1998).
Here, the Board found that appellant was disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), which provides that an individual may not receive benefits if he "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work[.]" Although the statute does not define the term "good cause," it has been construed to mean "'cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed.'" Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 287 (App. Div. 1983) (quoting Condo v. Bd. of Review, 158 N.J. Super. 172, 174 (App. Div. 1978)).
The test for determining whether an employee's decision to leave work constitutes "good cause" is one of "'ordinary common sense and prudence.'" Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 214 (quoting Zielenski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 52 (App. Div. 1964)). The employee's decision to quit "'must be compelled by real, substantial and reasonable circumstances . . . .'" Ibid. (quoting Domenico, supra, 192 N.J. Super. at 288). "A claimant has the 'responsibility to do whatever is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed.'" Ibid. (quoting Heulitt v. Bd. of Review, 300 N.J. Super. 407, 414 (App. Div. 1997)).
We are convinced that the record supports the Board's finding that appellant left his job "without good cause attributable to" the work. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). As stated previously, although appellant testified that he was continually harassed and humiliated by his boss, he nonetheless remained in his employ for ten years. We have noted that, whether warranted or not, criticism by a supervisor "may be expected in the normal course of employment." Associated Util. Servs., Inc. v. Bd. of Review, 131 N.J. Super. 584, 589 (App. Div. 1974). See also Gerber, supra, 313 N.J. Super. at 40 (holding that a supervisor's on-the-spot reprimand was not "good cause" under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) for the employee's decision to leave work).
Appellant also asserted that he suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes which were aggravated by the stress of his employment. However, to support a claim for unemployment compensation benefits on this basis, appellant had the burden to present competent medical evidence to show that a pre-existing medical condition was aggravated by conditions in the workplace. Israel v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 283 N.J. Super. 1, 5 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 143 N.J. 326 (1995). See also N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.3(d) (requiring that when an individual leaves work for health or medical reasons, a medical certification is required to establish that the employee left the job for good cause attributable to the work).
In sum, we are satisfied that notwithstanding appellant's assertions to the contrary, the evidence fails to support his claim that he left his job on May 16, 2008, for good cause attributable to the work.
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