“You’re Fired!” Only Way to Know If You’re Terminated From A Job?
To receive Unemployment Benefits in New York, you cannot quit your job. Unless, of course, you quit because you’re being illegally discriminated against or if the workplace has become so intolerable that any reasonable person would have to leave. But what happens if the boss never really said, "YOU ARE FIRED"; but the signals they gave indicated that you were? The answer to that question is the difference as to whether unemployment benefits are paid, or not.
This week, we head east out to Woodmere, one of the Long Island communities known as the Five Towns. It is known to be a nice, quiet, and clean town. There is a large variety of shops and stores nearby and it’s a convenient 40-minute train ride to our Third Avenue office. (You are looking at 4:45-minute drive north to catch the Orange playing at the Carrier Dome). People in Woodmere are known to be friendly. Dokken guitarist, Jon Levin, is from Woodmere. He was their attorney before he got tapped to fill the Lead Guitar role in 2004. TV producer and writer, Alan Zweibel, grew up Woodmere. Upon graduation from the University at Buffalo, Zweibel started writing for stand-up comedians who paid him seven dollars a joke. He later compiled over 1,100 of them into a portfolio, which he showed to producer Lorne Michaels, who then hired Zweibel to be one of the original writers of a new show called -- Saturday Night Live!
But this week’s case is no joke. We meet Claire Leone who works in the Woodmere Florist. Claire worked as a designer for the florist shop. During one of the busy days before a holiday, Claire and her boss got into an argument. Claire left the shop and, believing that she was fired, immediately filed for Unemployment Benefits. The owner of Woodmere Florist was contacted by the Department of Labor. The owner told the agent that Claire had not been fired. DOL then disqualified Claire from receiving benefits because she was not fired, according to her boss. Claire asked for a hearing. This is what happened:
TESTIMONY OF CLAIRE – the Worker
Q. What was the position you held at Woodmere Florist?
A. I was a floral designer.
Q. What is a floral designer?
A. Floral designers work with flowers and plants to create bouquets and floral displays. We create displays that set different tones that might be used for weddings, baby showers, funerals, anniversaries, or extra big bouquets when someone forgot an anniversary.
Q. What were your hours?
A. Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and definitely overtime on holidays.
Q. I want to bring your attention to the day before Mother's Day.
Q. Were you working at Woodmere on that day?
A. I was.
Q. Did you receive a phone call while you were working on that day?
A. I did: at about 1:00 p.m., my son called to inquire what time I would be done with work.
Q. What did you do when he asked you that?
A. I asked my boss, Angie, what time I would be done. Angie got really annoyed and said that she didn’t know because the orders were still coming in. Then she said that I always wanted to do this – meaning, you know, always leave early when it gets busy.
Q. And did Angie say anything else?
A. For no reason, she said, “just go home.” I was shocked. I mean, we had all these orders…
Q. Did you say anything to Angie after she said to go home?
A. I asked her if I was fired…I said like, “Am I fired?”
Q. What did Angie say in response to your question?
A. She said. “Just go home?”
Q. What was your understanding at that time as to your employment situation at Woodmere Florist.
A. That I was fired, obviously.
Q. What did you do next?
A. I got my things and left the store. I was scared because, you know, I have bills. I went home and filed on-line for Unemployment. I was just scared.
Q. Did Angie or anyone from the flower shop call you after that?
A. No, sir. No one called me.
Cross-examination by Woodmere Florist’s Lawyer
Q. You never called Angie after you left the shop the day you left the shop?
A. No, I was fired. Why would I?
Q. Well, no one actually said, “Claire, you’re fired,” right?
A. I was told to go home during one of the busiest times of the year.
Q. But no one said, you are fired, or terminated, right?
A. Not in those words, no. I said to Angie, I guess I’m being fired.” She said, again, “Just go home.” So I did.
Q. So, based on the words, “Just go home,” you assumed you were fired.
A. Yes because I was.
TESTIMONY OF ANGIE – The Boss
Q. Angie, are you the owner of Woodmere Florist?
A. Yes, I am. But I also work there.
Q. And Claire was your employee?
A. She was.
Q. Did you terminate Claire’s employment the day before Mother’s Day?
A. Most certainly not. It is the busiest time of the year.
Q. Did you have a disagreement with Claire on that day?
A. Yes. She was hinting that she had to leave early and we were swamped with orders. I just got fed up and said, “Just go home, I will take care of everything myself.”
Q. And did she leave.
A. Yes, she did. It was around 1:30 in the afternoon.
Q. Was Claire fired?
A. No. I figured she would come back after she cooled off.
Q. But she didn’t?
A. No, she did not.
WAS CLAIRE FIRED OR DID SHE LEAVE ON HER OWN?
IF THE JUDGE DETERMINES THAT CLAIRE LEFT ON HER OWN, SHE WILL NOT GET UNEMPLOYMENT TO HELP PAY THE BILLS UNTIL SHE GETS ANOTHER JOB.
IF THE JUDGE FINDS THAT ANGIE FIRED HER THEN CLAIRE BE ENTITLED TO COLLECT.
The claimant and the florist's owner got into a disagreement and the claimant was told to "just go home," which claimant interpreted as a discharge from her employment. I find that the testimony constitutes substantial evidence to support the decision that the claimant did not voluntarily leave her employment.
CLAIRE WINS, and she will be able to get unemployment benefits.
See you next week!
Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_00899.htm