MN court: Workers who quit over child care can get unemployment

Jamie Gonzalez Diaz of Goodhue County, Minn., faced the dilemma too many women face: she had to choose between her job and the kids.

Her employer, Three Rivers Community Action, tried to accommodate her needs balancing the four kids by adjusting her work schedule and allowing her to take paid time off when there were gaps in the day.

But when she lost her child care provider, her employer told her she would no longer be accommodated with a different shift schedule than other employees, and that she needed to start working a regularly scheduled shift.

She asked what would happen if she couldn’t. She was told she would be fired.

She showed up for work at 8 a.m. the next day, but when she she learned she didn’t have child care options for the following day, she cleaned out her belongings, figuring her job was over. Her employer “accepted her resignation.” This all happened not long after she was named a Head Start Hero in Minnesota.

Normally in Minnesota, if you quit work, you’re not eligible for unemployment. There’s an exception, however: the loss of child care.

But Three Rivers appealed an initial decision from the state that said she could get unemployment, and a law judge said the loss-of-child-care exception did not apply because Gonzalez Diaz could have asked for an additional accommodation for the days she could not acquire child care.

Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said that’s wrong.

“Gonzalez Diaz requested accommodation, [but] no reasonable accommodation was available to her,” Judge Lucinda Jesson wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

While we do not disagree with any of the ULJ’s [unemployment law judge] factual findings and agree that Gonzalez Diaz could have requested additional time off, we disagree that she was required to in order for the exception to apply. Gonzalez Diaz had already requested and received accommodations multiple times, and Three Rivers was well aware of Gonzalez Diaz’s ongoing child-care issues. Furthermore, Gonzalez Diaz’s failure to renew her request for an accommodation was understandable as

Three Rivers rescinded the implemented accommodation and met with Gonzalez Diaz to inform her she needed to work her scheduled shifts as a result of her requesting paid time off.

The ULJ also emphasized that Gonzalez Diaz’s child-care issue would be less of a problem during the summer, starting only a short time after she quit. However, whether the lack of childcare would have continued to be an issue is outside the scope of the analysis. The statute only requires that Gonzalez Diaz lost childcare and it caused her to quit. It does not mention anything regarding whether the issue would be ongoing or isolated.

The Court of Appeals made clear that its decision doesn’t require employers to accommodate employees who are having child care issues, it only allows those who quit to get unemployment benefits (See ruling).