On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 237,046.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Simonelli and Fasciale.
Appellant, Wayne E. Waltner, appeals from an order of the Board of Review affirming a decision of the Appeal Tribunal that he was disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. We affirm.
Sony Electronics employed Waltner as a technical support engineer for digital photography products from June 3, 1991 through June 1, 2009. Waltner's job duties entailed answering telephone inquiries regarding photography products. In February 2009, Sony offered its employees a retirement package and gave notice that it planned to announce layoffs. Waltner was not named in the layoff announcement. Although Sony cut ninety percent of its funding for digital photography products resulting in a reduction of Waltner's workload, work was available for Waltner to do, and he was never advised that his employment would be terminated or that he would be laid off.
Waltner spoke to his manager regarding whether he should accept the retirement package and his manager advised him that he would take it if he were in Waltner's shoes. Waltner then accepted the retirement package. Of the fifteen technical support engineers, three - - including Waltner - - elected to retire. One engineer transferred and another was laid off. Waltner did not ask Sony about the possibility of continuing to work in a different capacity because he concluded that there were no other positions available.
Waltner filed a claim for unemployment benefits on May 31, 2009. The Deputy Director disqualified him for benefits, finding "your reason for leaving does not constitute good cause attributable to the work." Waltner appealed and the Appeal Tribunal affirmed, finding that Waltner accepted the retirement package and left his job. The Appeal Tribunal concluded that "le[aving] . . . a job through [a] retirement package . . . is not good cause attributable to the work under the law. Furthermore, [Waltner] did not pursue his other options to remain employed . . . ."
The Board affirmed. This appeal followed. On appeal, Waltner contends (1) he was never advised that the Appeal Tribunal would disqualify him for unemployment benefits because he failed to pursue other work, and (2) that he did not voluntarily leave his job, but left with good cause attributable to the work. We disagree.
Our review of an administrative agency decision is limited. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). "'[I]n reviewing the factual findings made in an unemployment compensation proceeding, the test is not whether [we] would come to the same conclusion if the original determination was [ours] to make, but rather whether the factfinder could reasonably so conclude upon the proofs.'" Ibid. (quoting Charatan v. Bd. of Review, 200 N.J. Super. 74, 79 (App. Div. 1985)). "If the Board's factual findings are supported 'by sufficient credible evidence, [we] are obliged to accept them.'" Ibid. (quoting Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 459 (1982). We also give due regard to the agency's credibility findings. Logan v. Bd. of Review, 299 N.J. Super. 346, 348 (App. Div. 1997). "Unless . . . the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, the agency's ruling should not be disturbed." Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210.
An employee is disqualified for benefits:
For 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*fn1
weeks in employment. . . .
An employee who has left work voluntarily has the burden of proving that he or she "did so with good cause attributable to the work." Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 218 (citing Zielenski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 52 (App. Div. 1964); Goebelbecker v. State, 53 N.J. Super. 53, 59 (App. Div. 1958)); see also Stauhs v. Bd. of Review, 93 N.J. Super. 451, 457 (App. Div. 1967); Morgan v. Bd. of Review, 77 N.J. Super. 209, 213 (App. Div. 1962); N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(c). "While the statute does not define 'good cause,' our courts have construed the statute 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)). N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(b) defines "good cause attributable to such work" as "a reason related directly to the individual's employment, which was so compelling as to give the individual no choice but to leave the employment."
An employee who leaves work for personal reasons is not deemed to have left work voluntarily with good cause. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 213; Self, supra, 91 N.J. at 457; Rider Coll. v. Bd. of Review, 167 N.J. Super. 42, 47-48 (App. Div. 1979). "'Mere dissatisfaction with working conditions which are not shown to be abnormal or do not affect health, does not constitute good cause for leaving work voluntarily.'" Domenico, supra, 192 N.J. Super. at 288. "'The decision to leave employment must be compelled by real, substantial and reasonable circumstances . . . attributable to the work.'" Shuster v. Bd. of Review, 396 N.J. Super. 240, 244-45 (App. Div. 2007) (quoting Fernandez v. Bd. of Review, 304 N.J. Super. 603, 606 (App. Div. 1997)); see also In re N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.6 ex. rel. State Dep't of Labor, 395 N.J. Super. 394, 399-400 (App. Div. 2007). "[I]t is the ...