JANUARY 29, 2003


NO. 2002-BR-00088


Jerry Tatum filed a claim for unemployment insurance benefits after he quit his job as a set-up and machine operator with Southwire Company, a wire extrusion plant. The Arkansas Employment Security Department denied the claim, as did the Appeal Tribunal and the Arkansas Board of Review. Tatum now appeals the Board's decision, contending that the evidence was insufficient to support the Board's finding that he voluntarily left his last work without good cause connected with the work. We disagree and affirm.

An individual shall be disqualified for benefits if he voluntarily and without good cause connected with the work left his last work. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-10-513(a)(1) (Repl. 2002). Good cause is cause that would reasonably impel the average able-bodied, qualified worker to give up his or her employment. Teel v. Daniels, 270 Ark. 766, 606 S.W.2d 151 (Ark. App. 1980). An element in determining good cause is whether the employee took

appropriate steps to prevent mistreatment from continuing. Id.

In the case now before us, the Board made the following findings:

The claimant's failure to approach upper management with his complaints does not satisfy the Teel consideration of taking appropriate steps to prevent the continuation of mistreatment, and the reasons the claimant gave for his failure to do so are not compelling. Because of this, the Board finds that the claimant has not established good faith. Further, some of the problems which the claimant complained about are remote in time from the day on which he quit; this hinders the claimant's case substantively, and does not enhance the weight given to his evidence. Thus, while the claimant may have felt justified in quitting, a qualifying separation from work cannot be found under the evidence in this case.

Findings of fact by the Board of Review are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence, and our review is limited to determining whether the Board could reasonably reach its decision upon the evidence before it. Hiner v. Director, 61 Ark. App. 139, 965 S.W.2d 785 (1998). Substantial evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. This Court reviews the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in a light most favorable to the Board of Review's findings; even when there is evidence upon which the Board might have reached a different decision, the scope of judicial review is limited to a determination of whether the Board could reasonably have reached its decision upon the evidence before it. Id.

The hearing officer in the present case took testimony by Tatum and Susie Argo, Southwire's human resources manager. Tatum testified that the company informed him in March 2001 that the plant would be shut down. He testified that he quit his job because of unfairness perpetrated by the employer, and he related various incidents that led to his quitting.

Tatum testified that in the first incident, on November 3, 2000, he was subjected to verbal and physical threats by another employee, and "a piece of plant equipment was actually thrown through the air about twenty feet" to hit him. He testified that the incident was reported to his supervisor; that a meeting was held the next day with the other employee, two supervisors, two lead men, and himself; that no disciplinary action was taken; that the incident was basically shoved under the rug; that, with implications of dismissal, the employees were advised not to make a report to human resources; and that he followed those instructions and made no report beyond the meeting. He said that he felt he was going to be in harm's way.

The second issue about which Tatum testified was a certification test for various machine classifications on February 20, 2001, which he said was unfairly administered. He testified that the test was not the same as was required of his counterparts; that his was the most difficult total complete set up; that he was given a strict time limit, and he failed it by five minutes; that no allowances were made for the lead man's interrupting him three times for advice and instructions on Tatum's machine; and that the test could have led to a higher level of certification and an increase in his pay. Tatum said that he questioned the trainer about the time, but that no exception was made. Tatum testified that there was no union at Southwire at the time and that he was unaware of any grievance procedure that would have covered the issue, but that he complained about the test to a lead man who felt that Tatum had been unfairly tested and said that he had never seen such a type of test.

Tatum also testified that when he was operating twelve-hour shifts, relief operatorswere not consistently provided on his breaks to watch over his machines and to cover for him; that this caused production problems and break outs and necessitated redoing part of the set up; and that he was the only one treated in this manner. He testified that he made his dissatisfaction known to his supervisor, William Foster, who did not have much to say about it; that there was basically inaction on management's part; but that he did not go above Foster's head to the production manager.

Tatum testified that his hours were reduced in early 2001 from "a thirty-six and forty-eight hour week," which averaged forty-eight hours with overtime, to a straight thirty-six hour week. He said that the net effect of these reduced working hours and the certification process that would have increased his pay was a twenty-two percent reduction in wages.

Regarding other things that influenced him to leave his job, Tatum said that "there seemed to be an unacknowledged effort by the company to have employees quit to make working conditions more unpleasant and unknown." He testified that notification of the plant closing was within a broad time frame, that he was transferred from first to second shift, that in the beginning there were three employees doing the same job he did but there were only two when he left, that his job was eliminated ten days after he left, and that the other person was laid off. He also testified that he performed inventory management and other duties that no other machine operators in his capacity had to do, and that he received no compensation for those duties. He stated, "You don't constantly complain about those things. It could, in a lot of cases, be very detrimental to your case. You kind of do your job and keep your mouth shut."

Finally, Tatum testified that he left the job because of a combination of all the facts. He stated that on the day he left, the machines were down again. He said that he was being saddled with most of the repairs and set ups, was running most end jobs, and was cleaning up leftovers due to incompetence of other shifts. He testified that when he had left, he had stated, "I'm getting tired of this."

Susie Argo, Southwire's human resources manager, testified that her records indicated that Tatum quit because he was tired of coming in after the first shift. She testified that she was not sure when his department was supposed to close, and that his department did shut down about ten days after he left. She stated that he couldn't guarantee that he would pass a certification test, and that everyone's money was reduced in going to three shifts. She stated that Tatum was not required to do some of the things he did on the job, but he did them because he wanted to and he could have stopped. She said that Tatum could have gone to management under the company's open-door policy to talk to anyone at any time. She testified that the first place to go with a complaint was the supervisor, with the next step being the production manager. She said that the chain of command did not have to be followed, however, and that she and the plant manager had an open-door policy. She said that there was no formal grievance policy.

Tatum contends on appeal that, in light of the fact that the company had no formal grievance policy, he did take appropriate steps to prevent the perceived mistreatment from continuing. Tatum argues that he acted reasonably in leaving his employment in the absence of a formal grievance policy, the peril of being fired for complaining, unequal treatment inseeking job advancement, and threats from a co-worker. He points to the fact that his job was eliminated ten days after his departure. He argues that he had no control over his circumstances and found himself unemployed through no fault of his own, "albeit somewhat untimely," and certainly would have found himself employed through no fault of his own because of his employer's reduction of the work force.

The credibility of witnesses and the weight to be accorded their testimony are matters to be resolved by the Board of Review. Grigsby v. Everett, 8 Ark. App. 188, 649 S.W.2d 404 (1983). Here, the Board stated that Tatum had not set forth compelling reasons for failing to approach upper management with his complaints; furthermore, the Board found that his case was substantively hindered and the weight of his evidence was not enhanced because of the remoteness in time of some of the incidents at work. Because these matters were within the purview of the Board, we hold that substantial evidence supports the Board's finding that Tatum voluntarily left last work without good cause connected with the work. Affirmed.

Vaught and Baker, JJ., agree.