A Florida appellate court, in Rivera v. Fla. Unemployment Appeals Commission and Pollo Operations, Inc., has directed Florida’s unemployment agency to give unemployment benefits to a woman who voluntarily quit her job. The woman, Nail Rivera, worked at Pollo Tropical restaurant for nine years when she complained that an assistant manager touched her buttocks. Ms. Rivera also complained that the same assistant manager stole money from her cash register, used the word “faggot” and grabbed a male employee’s private parts.
After making the complaints, Ms. Rivera took leave to care for her sick mother. While on leave, a human resources manager, who had investigated the complaints, told Ms. Rivera that her allegation of being touched on the buttocks could not be corroborated. The human resources manager did not advise Ms. Rivera that her theft allegation was still under investigation.
Based on the outcome of the first investigation, Ms. Rivera requested to transfer to another store, which Pollo Tropical denied because there were no openings. Ms. Rivera did not return to work. What Ms. Rivera did not know was that two weeks after she quit, the company completed its theft investigation and fired the assistant manager.
The appeals court said that the woman had two options – (1) quit or (2) return to the Pollo Tropical restaurant where the harassing assistant manager was still employed. Based on these facts, the court thought that the woman had good cause for quitting.
Whether or not there is good cause for an employee to quit a job is a commonly contested issue. In the past, Florida courts have found good cause where employees quit due to fear for their personal safety. The courts use a standard of “reasonableness” as applied to the average man or woman (and not a supersensitive person). This standard is now explicitly included in the new unemployment compensation law.