Louis F. LaFountain
Department of Labor (Eden General Store, Inc., Employer)
Appeal from Employment Security Board Michael Harrington,
F. LaFountain, Pro Se, Eden, Plaintiff-Appellant.
Anderson, Department of Labor, Montpelier,
PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson, Eaton and Carroll,
REIBER, C. JUDGE.
1. Claimant appeals pro se from the Employment Security
Board's denial of his claim for unemployment compensation
benefits. We conclude that the Board's findings do not
support its conclusion, and we therefore reverse and remand
for additional proceedings.
2. Claimant was employed as a store manager at the Eden
General Store for three- and-a-half years. His last day of
work was July 8, 2016. In late February 2017, claimant sought
unemployment compensation benefits, and a claims adjudicator
denied his request. The claims adjudicator found that
claimant left his employment due to a certified health
condition, which precluded the discharge of duties inherent
in such employment. See 21 V.S.A. § 1344(a)(3) (stating
that claimant is disqualified for benefits "[f]or not
more than six weeks nor less than one week immediately
following the filing of a claim for benefits (in addition to
the waiting period), " if claimant left job
"without good cause attributable to" employer
"because of a health condition, as certified by a health
care provider . . ., which precludes the discharge of duties
inherent in such employment"). She further found that
claimant was currently unable to work and that he therefore
was ineligible for unemployment compensation. See
id. § 1343(a)(3) (stating that to be eligible
for benefits, claimant must be "able to work" and
be "available for work").
3. Claimant appealed this decision to an administrative law
judge (ALJ). Following a hearing, the ALJ made the following
findings. Claimant has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
(COPD), which worsened during his last year of employment to
the point that he had to reduce his hours to part-time and
eventually stop working. Claimant needs a well-ventilated or
purified-air environment to prevent exacerbation of his COPD.
Claimant has been working with Vocational Rehabilitation
(VocRehab) to explore part-time employment. Several months
earlier, in late February 2017, claimant had applied for
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.
4. The ALJ concluded that claimant was not able to work, and
thus, he was ineligible for unemployment benefits. She cited
the fact that claimant's COPD was exacerbated by movement
unless he was in a well-ventilated or air-purified
environment. She also noted that claimant's VocRehab
specialist had not specifically identified any type of work
that claimant could perform given his limitations. Finally,
the ALJ reasoned that claimant was pursuing SSDI benefits and
that to obtain such benefits, he had to certify that he could
not work. Claimant appealed this decision, and following a
hearing, the Board adopted the ALJ's findings and
conclusions as its own. This appeal followed.
5. Claimant challenges the Board's conclusion that he was
not able and available to work. He maintains that the
Board's findings do not support its conclusion. He notes
that under Vermont case law, actual job vacancies need not
exist for him to be entitled to unemployment compensation. He
also questions why his application for SSDI benefits should
disqualify him from obtaining unemployment compensation.
Claimant argues that the unemployment laws should be
liberally construed to provide employees with a basic
financial bridge to their next job. He contends that he can
work part-time and that he is entitled to benefits.
6. The Board's decision is entitled to "great weight
on appeal." Fleece on Earth v. Dep't of
Emp't & Training, 2007 VT 29, ¶ 4, 181 Vt.
458, 923 A.2d 594 (quotation omitted). We will affirm the
Board's factual findings unless they are clearly
erroneous, and we will uphold its legal conclusions if they
are reasonably supported by the findings. 863 To Go, Inc.
v. Dep't of Labor, 2014 VT 61, ¶ 8, 196 Vt.
551, 99 A.3d 629. We agree with claimant that the Board's
findings are deficient here.
7. At the outset, we emphasize that the purpose of the
unemployment compensation law is not "to provide sick
benefits nor to compensate those who cease working because of
illness." Willard v. Vt. Unemployment Comp.
Comm'n, 122 Vt. 398, 404, 173 A.2d 843, 847 (1961);
see also Stryker v. Dep't of Emp't Sec., 134
Vt. 224, 226, 356 A.2d 534, 535 (1976) ("It is not the
function of unemployment compensation to operate as
disability benefits, provide pension benefits or perform the
function of welfare payments."). Instead, the law is
designed "to assist members of the working force who are
made jobless by operations of the economy over which they
have no individual control." Willard, 122 Vt.
at 402, 292 A.2d at 846. As indicated above, an individual
must be "able" and "available" to work to
be entitled to receive benefits. 21 V.S.A. § 1343(a)(3);
In re Platt, 130 Vt. 329, 332, 292 A.2d 822, 825
(1972). To be "available" to work, he or she must
be "genuinely attached to the labor market."
Willard, 122 Vt. at 402, 173 A.2d at 846 (quotation
8. We have explained that a "labor market for an
individual exists when there is a market for the type of
services which [claimant] offers in the geographical area in
which [claimant] offers them." Id. (quotation
omitted). Claimant is correct that actual job vacancies need
not exist for an individual to be entitled to benefits. See
id. (explaining that term "market" as used
above "does not mean that job vacancies must exist"
as "purpose of unemployment compensation is to
compensate for the lack of appropriate vacancies"
(quotation omitted)). At the same time, however, claimant
must identify particular employment services that he can
offer and "establish the existence of a real and
significant market" for these services "in the
geographical area." Stryker, 134 Vt. at 226,
356 A.2d at 535 (citing Willard, 122 Vt. at 405, 173
A.2d at 843 for proposition "that one who limits his
availability must, to be eligible for benefits, establish the
existence of a real and significant market for the employment
services he offers in the geographical area").
9. The Board's findings do not adequately address these
issues. Claimant testified that he wanted to work and that he
could work part-time. Claimant stated that he had not been
applying for any work but that he had been going to VocRehab
every week and that his counselor was trying to match him up
with a job that fit his needs. Claimant believed that he could
continue to do retail work as long as he was sitting down. He
also stated that he could perform computer work, preferably
from home. Claimant testified that he had experience working
on his computer from home and that he was exploring this type
of work with his VocRehab counselor. Claimant's VocRehab
counselor did not testify at the hearing. Instead, claimant
submitted a letter from her in which she stated that claimant
was an active participant working with VocRehab and the
Vermont Association of Business, Industry and Rehabilitation
(VABIR) in exploring part-time employment. She found it
apparent that ...