Court rules on unemployment benefits case

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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Individuals who voluntarily quit a job in order to take care of a physically disabled relative are not entitled to unemployment benefits, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In Mildred Whiteside v. Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Unemployment Insurance Review Board and Division of Family & Children, 93A02-0703-EX-229, Whiteside appealed the decision of the Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to deny her claim for unemployment benefits, saying the denial was contrary to Indiana law.

Whiteside was a full-time employee at the Indiana Division of Family & Children and voluntarily left her job in September 2006 to provide care for her quadriplegic son. She requested and was denied family medical leave because she had not worked the required 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. She had previously used FMLA leave to assist in her son's rehabilitation. After she resigned, Whiteside filed for unemployment benefits, which both the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and an administrative law judge denied. The administrative law judge concluded Whiteside voluntarily left her job without good cause in connection to her work. Whiteside appealed, and the Review Board affirmed the judge's decision.

In question in this appeal is whether Indiana Code Section 22-4-15-1(c)(2) applies to Whitehead in granting her unemployment benefits for taking care of her disabled son. Whitehead argues that one of the exclusions for physical disability in the statute applies to her ability to receive unemployment benefits. The section states "An individual whose unemployment is the result of medically substantiated physical disability and who is involuntary unemployed after having made reasonable efforts to maintain the employment relationship shall not be subject to the disqualification under this section for such separation."

The Court of Appeals, while commending Whitehead for leaving her job to take care of her son, affirmed the denial of her unemployment benefits, stating the Indiana Code section in question only applies to an individual with a disability, not to a family member. The language of the code does not include anything to indicate the disability of anyone other than the claimant should be considered. Under Whitehead's interpretation of the statute, people with ailing parents, siblings, children, spouses, and other dependents would be able to receive unemployment benefits, which is not the intended result of the statute.

Because Whitehead was not suffering the disability, the Review Board had no reason to consider or apply this statutory section in reaching its conclusion of law.

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