A case was brought in the Minnesota Court of Appeals which challenged the decision of an unemployment law judge (ULJ) in which the appellant was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he quit his job without good reason caused by the employer. 

The employer, a provider of fire/life-safety equipment and services, supplied safety glasses, dust masks and gloves to the shop technicians and required them to be worn in order to prevent exposure to chemicals. The employer had also recently remodeled the shop room to install a utility fan with the intent to improve ventilation. 

Despite the remodeling, the appellant quit his job and claimed the shop was not properly ventilated and therefore resulted in too much exposure to a harmful chemical associated with fire extinguishers. The appellant subsequently established a benefit account with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. A department administrative clerk issued a determination of eligibility, which concluded the appellant had indeed quit for good reason because of potential chemical exposure. 

The employer appealed the decision. Following a hearing, the ULJ determined the “work conditions were not a reason which would compel a reasonable employee to quit and become unemployed because the preponderance of the evidence shows that Respondent-Employer provided personal protective equipment to minimize exposure and took steps to improve ventilation.” 

The ULJ also found that the appellant never complained to his employer about the working conditions. Thus, the ULJ concluded the appellant was not eligible for unemployment benefits. In its decision the court stated, “An applicant who quit(s) employment is ineligible for all unemployment benefits unless he or she qualifies under one of the enumerated exceptions to ineligibility.” 

One exception to ineligibility for unemployment benefits is if a worker resigned due to a good reason caused by the employer, which is defined exclusively by Minnesota statute. A good reason caused by the employer is “a reason: (1) that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible; (2) that is adverse to the worker; and (3) that would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed rather than remaining in the employment.” 

That statute continues, “If an applicant was subjected to adverse working conditions by the employer, the applicant must complain to the employer and give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions before that may be a good reason caused by the employer for quitting.” 

Here, because the ULJ found credible the branch manager’s testimony that the appellant did not complain to his employer, the court will not disturb the ULJ’s finding that the employee failed to give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct any alleged adverse working condition as required by Minnesota statute. 

There was also no evidence the conditions of the appellant’s employment were so adverse as to compel an average, reasonable employee to quit. Although the branch manager acknowledged that exposure to large amounts of chemical powders contained in the fire-safety equipment can cause some irritation, he testified, “That’s why we require our employees to wear safety glasses.” 

The branch manager also testified the employer provides other safety equipment, such as masks and gloves to keep noxious agents off skin and out of lungs. 

The court concluded there was no evidence of adverse workplace conditions that would compel an average reasonable employee to quit. Also, because there was substantial evidence to support the appellant failed to inform his employer about his safety concerns, the ULJ did not err in determining the employee was not eligible for unemployment benefits.