COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA 


CHAUNCEY F. HUTTER, INC., d/b/a    PRO-TAX
v.								           NOVEMBER 6, 2007
VIRGINIA EMPLOYMENT COMMISSION


	FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF CHARLOTTESVILLE

Edward L. Hogshire, Judge


Code  60.2-618(1) states, in part, that "[a]n individual shall be disqualified for benefits 
. . . if the Commission finds such individual is unemployed because he left work voluntarily."  
The issue here for determination, apparently one of first impression before a Virginia court, is 
whether an individual who enters into an employment contract for a specific term leaves 
employment "voluntarily" when that term expires.  We conclude such an individual does not, 
and, accordingly, is entitled to unemployment benefits. 

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The facts are undisputed.

	Charmine M. Key ("claimant") entered into a written contract of employment as a 
receptionist with Chauncey F. Hutton, Inc., d/b/a PRO-TAX ("PRO-TAX"), which prepared 
state and federal tax returns.  The letter employment agreement reads in pertinent part:  
"[B]eginning the week of January 10, 2005 . . . . Please keep in mind that we are a seasonal 
business, and this employment is temporary.  However, based upon performance, we may offer 
you the opportunity to work with us until the end of this tax season on April 15, 2005."

	Claimant successfully fulfilled her employment agreement.  In her statement to the 
Virginia Employment Commission ("VEC") on June 15, 2005, claimant reported that "[n]o work 
was available for her after the 15th."  PRO-TAX agreed, in testimony before a VEC appeals 
examiner on September 12, 2005, stating:  "Q.  Alright and then nothing else was available for 
her after [April 15, 2005]?  A.  No."

	Claimant filed for unemployment benefits.  Counsel for PRO-TAX responded that  
"[claimant] effectively resigned because she knew the employment was temporary when she 
accepted it."  

	The VEC awarded benefits.  By decision dated September 13, 2005, an appeals examiner 
concluded:  "There was no voluntarily leaving on her part.  She worked through the agreed upon 
date and would have continued had work been available for her."  

	On July 27, 2006, the Commission affirmed:
The fact that this claimant knew when she was hired that 
her job would only last until April 15, did not transform her 
separation at the end of the period agreed upon into a voluntary 
leaving from the layoff it actually was.  The fact remains that the 
claimant became unemployed because the employer no longer 
needed her services.  Such a layoff amounts to a no fault discharge. 

	The matter was appealed to the circuit court pursuant to the judicial review provisions of 
Code  60.2-625, and by letter opinion dated January 23, 2007, the decision of the Commission 
was affirmed.  The court concluded:  "Although the Commission's decision appears . . . 
counterintuitive, this Court recognizes that it is obligated to presume that the actions of the 
administrative agency are correct."


STANDARD OF REVIEW

The issue for resolution is one of law, interpreting the word "voluntarily" within Code 
 60.2-618(1).  "Because statutory interpretation presents a pure question of law, it is subject to 
de novo review" by an appellate court.  Boynton v. Kilgore, 271 Va. 220, 227, 623 S.E.2d 922, 
925 (2006).  "In sum, pure statutory interpretation is the prerogative of the judiciary."  Sims 
Wholesale Co. v. Brown-Forman Corp., 251 Va. 398, 404, 468 S.E.2d 905, 908 (1996).
As this Court noted in Finnerty v. Thornton Hall, Inc., 42 Va. App. 628, 635, 593 S.E.2d 
568, 571 (2004) (quoting Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1Cranch) 137, 177 (1830)), "[t]his axiom 
stems from basic principles of separation of powers.  'It is emphatically the province and duty of 
the judicial department to say what the law is.'"  In such a determination, however, the judiciary 
is to "ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature."  Chase v. DaimlerChrysler 
Corp., 266 Va. 544, 547, 587 S.E.2d 521, 522 (2003).

Subsumed within this congruent principle of deference to legislative intent is an ancillary 
proposition applicable to administrative law.  "It is well settled that where the construction of a 
statute has been uniform for many years in the administrative practice, and has been acquiesced 
in by the General Assembly, such construction is entitled to great weight with the courts."  Dan 
River Mills, Inc. v. Unemployment Comp. Comm'n, 195 Va. 997, 1002, 81 S.E.2d 620, 623 
(1954).  See also Purolator Courier Corp. v. Clemons Courier Corp., 236 Va. 394, 400, 374 
S.E.2d 42, 45 (1988); Branch v. Virginia Employment Comm'n, 219 Va. 609, 612, 249 S.E.2d 
180, 183 (1978); Shifflett v. Virginia Employment Comm'n, 14 Va. App. 96, 98, 414 S.E.2d 
865, 866 (1992).

ANALYSIS

Pervasive in decisions by Virginia courts is the conclusion that the Unemployment 
Compensation Act is to be liberally and remedially interpreted.  Illustrative of that conclusion is 
Ford Motor Co. v. Unemployment Comp. Comm'n, 191 Va. 812, 63 S.E.2d 28 (1951).  There 
the Commission had awarded unemployment benefits to workers at Ford's Norfolk assembly 
plant who had been laid off because of a shortage of component parts.  These parts were 
manufactured at Ford's River Rouge plant near Detroit, Michigan.  The parts were unavailable in 
Norfolk because of a strike by workers at River Rouge.  Then Code  60-47(d) prohibited 
benefits if the unemployment resulted from a labor dispute "at the factory, establishment, or 
other premises" of the employee.  This prohibition did not apply, however, if "separate branches 
of work" were "commonly conducted as separate businesses."  Code  60-47(d) (1950) (current 
version at Code  60.2-612).

	The Supreme Court of Virginia found Norfolk and River Rouge, though both owned and 
operated by Ford, to be "separate establishments" and affirmed the Commission's award of 
benefits.  Ford, 191 Va. at 825, 63 S.E.2d at 34.

	In so doing, the Court noted:

The Unemployment Compensation Act was intended to provide 
temporary financial assistance to workers who become 
unemployed without fault on their part.  The statute as a whole, as 
well as the particular sections here involved, should be so 
interpreted as to effectuate that remedial purpose implicit in its 
enactment.

Id. at 824, 63 S.E.2d at 33-34.  See also Virginia Employment Comm'n v. A.I.M. Corp., 225 Va. 
338, 346, 302 S.E.2d 534, 539 (1983).

	This Court, in reliance on Ford, has repeatedly held that the Unemployment 
Compensation Act should be construed in a liberal and remedial manner.  See Israel v. Virginia 
Employment Comm'n, 7 Va. App. 169, 172, 372 S.E.2d 207, 209 (1988); Johnson v. Virginia 
Employment Comm'n, 8 Va. App. 441, 448-49, 382 S.E.2d 476, 479 (1989); Virginia 
Employment Comm'n v. Sutphin, 8 Va. App. 325, 327-28, 380 S.E.2d 667, 668-69 (1989). 
With respect to the issue before us, we initially note that "[t]he burden is on the employer 
to prove that the claimant left work voluntarily."  Actuarial Benefits & Design Corp. v. Virginia 
Employment Comm'n, 23 Va. App. 640, 645, 478 S.E.2d 735, 738 (1996).

This Court has addressed Code  60.2-618(1) in factual situations distinct from those here 
involved.  Whitt v. Race Fork Coal Corp., 18 Va. App. 71, 75, 441 S.E.2d 357, 359 (1994) 
(employee who accepts lump sum workers' compensation settlement, a condition of which he 
leave employment, has left work voluntarily); Shifflett, 14 Va. App. at 98, 414 S.E.2d at 866 
(employee's refusal to work out a notice period, after being notified of a future discharge, is a 
voluntary leaving); Actuarial, 23 Va. App. at 646, 478 S.E.2d at 738 (discharge by employer 
with notice of pending resignation is not equivalent to a voluntary leaving for interim period).
In Shuler v. Virginia Employment Comm'n, 9 Va. App. 147, 151, 384 S.E.2d 122, 125 
(1989), we held that where the uncontradicted evidence showed that claimant properly assumed 
that a three-day absence was authorized, and sought to return to work, that claimant had not left 
work voluntarily.  In so doing, we stated that "[t]he term 'voluntary' connotes '[u]nconstrained 
by interference; unimpelled by another's influence; spontaneous; acting of oneself . . . [r]esulting 
from free choice.'"  Id. at 150, 384 S.E.2d at 124 (citations omitted).  See also Whitt, 18 
Va. App. at 75, 441 S.E.2d at 359.

In Bowles v. Cities Service Oil Co., Decision S-10599-10306 (April 4, 1961), aff'd, 
Commission Decision 3764-C (August 17, 1961), claimant was employed as a messman on a 
ship owned by employer.  An agreement between the Seafarers International Union and 
employer, incorporated into claimant's contract, limited his term of employment to 60 days if a
 more senior crewman was available at the end of that term.  That turned out to be the case, and 
claimant was replaced.   

In awarding unemployment benefits, the appeals examiner wrote:

The claimant was hired for a definite period and, after 
working the period called for, was replaced by another crew 
member.  He did not leave his job, nor did he quit.  The terms of 
the Contract were at an end, and the work he had agreed to do was 
done. . . . [T]he Examiner is of the opinion that the claimant did 
not voluntarily quit his employment and would not be subject to 
the disqualifying provisions of Section 60-47(a) of the Act. 

Id.

	Recognizing the Unemployment Compensation Act is to be liberally construed, referring 
to our definition of "voluntary" quoted above, and granting appropriate deference to a decision 
of the Commission related to the issue raised, we hold that when an individual leaves work 
solely because that individual entered into a contract of employment for a defined term, that 
individual does not leave work "voluntarily," as that word is used in Code  60.2-618(1).  In the 
instant case, on the undisputed facts, claimant did not leave work "voluntarily"; rather, work left 
claimant.  "The involuntary unemployment for which the Act is designed to provide, 
presupposes a lack of available work."  Unemployment Comp. Comm'n v. Tomko, 192 Va. 463, 
469, 65 S.E.2d 524, 528 (1951).  Accordingly, claimant is entitled to unemployment benefits. 
Principles of statutory construction support this conclusion.  Existing Code  60.2-615, 
dealing with educators, etc., and Code  60.2-616, dealing with professional athletes, each deny 
unemployment benefits at the end of term contracts.  "If a statute expressly excepts a class 
which would otherwise fall within its terms, the exception negates the idea that any other class 
is to be excepted."  Reese v. Wampler Foods, Inc., 222 Va. 249, 252, 278 S.E.2d 870, 871 
(1981) (citations omitted).  See also Singleton v. Int'l Assoc. of Machinists, 240 Va. 403, 407, 
397 S.E.2d 856, 859 (1990).  If the legislature had likewise chosen to deny unemployment 
benefits to term employees as a class, they could have done so by legislation equivalent to Code 
 60.2-615 and Code  60.2-616.  "The General Assembly could have included such prohibitory 
language . . . but did not do so."  Allstate Insurance Co. v. Eaton, 248 Va. 426, 430, 448 S.E.2d 
652, 655 (1994).  We may not by interpretation, "add to a statute language which the legislature 
has chosen not to include."  County of Amherst Bd. of Supervisors v. Brockman, 224 Va. 391, 
397, 297 S.E.2d 805, 808 (1982).  Further, as this Court held in Commonwealth v. Wallace, 29 
Va. App. 228, 233-34, 511 S.E.2d 423, 425 (1999) (quoting Moreno v. Moreno, 24 Va. App. 
190, 198, 480 S.E.2d 792, 796 (1997)): 

The words chosen by the legislature in drafting a statute derive 
meaning from both definition and context and, therefore, we divine 
legislative intent by construing an enactment as a whole, together 
with companion statutes . . . .  [T]he doctrine of pari materia 
teaches that "statutes are not to be considered as isolated fragments 
of law, but as a whole, or parts of a great, connected homogenous 
system, or a simply and complete statutory arrangement."

Again, within the overall structure of the unemployment benefit statutes, the legislature chose 
not to deny such benefits to term employees as a class.

	Our conclusion is likewise strengthened by decisions in other jurisdictions, in each of 
which the relevant statute denies benefits if a claimant leaves work "voluntarily," without good 
cause or its equivalent.  See Anthony Adams AIA Architect v. Dep't of Employment Sec., 430 
A.2d 446, 447 (Vt. 1981) ("At the end of the six weeks worked by the employee in this case, the 
job for him simply ceased to exist.  He did not have the option of continuing to work.  The 
claimant became unemployed because of a lack of work, not because he voluntarily left his 
position."); State Dep't of Indus. Relations v. Montgomery Baptist Hosp., Inc., 359 So. 2d 410, 
413 (Ala. Civ. App. 1978) ("At the conclusion of his term of employment there was no further 
position as a pharmacy intern at the hospital available for Dudley.  In short, the job with respect 
to Dudley simply ceased to exist.  And in view of this fact, we conclude that Dudley's action in 
leaving the employ of the hospital did not constitute a voluntary leaving, but rather an 
involuntary termination."); Chicago Transit Auth. v. Didrickson, 659 N.E.2d 28, 33 (Ill. App. Ct. 
1995) ("The acceptance of employment for a stipulated period does not necessarily result in a 
voluntary leaving at the end of the agreed time, and we are of the opinion that the remedial 
purposes of the Act are furthered by allowing benefits in such cases."); Kentucky Unemployment 
Ins. Comm'n v. Am. Nat'l Bank & Trust Co., 367 S.W.2d 260, 262 (Ky. Ct. App. 1963) ("Thus 
it is our opinion that a correct interpretation of the statute is that an employee who accepts a job 
which he knows in advance to be temporary does not voluntarily leave when the job ceases to 
exist."); Loftis v. Legionville Sch. Safety Patrol Training Ctr., Inc., 297 N.W.2d 237, 239 n.5 
(Minn. 1980) ("Disqualifying a person for working at a temporary position is inherently contrary 
to the policies of the statute.").  See also Walker Mfg. Co. v. Pogreba, 316 N.W.2d 315 (Neb. 
1982); City of Lakin v. Kansas Employment Sec. Bd. of Review, 865 P.2d 223 (Kan. Ct. App. 
1993).

POLICY

On brief both parties argue issues of policy.

Appellant states on brief that "it is worth noting that the result of [reading the statute as 
appellant deems correct] is favored by policy as well. . . . If the VEC's decision in this case 
stands . . . in return for providing good seasonal jobs . . . [employers] will be rewarded with the 
highest, most burdensome unemployment tax possible."  

The VEC responds, "From a policy standpoint, if the Commission were to adopt the 
policy that the Petitioner describes, unemployed individuals would be discouraged from taking 
part-time work because they would be excluded from obtaining unemployment compensation."
	We do not address such arguments, because "[t]he calculus of effects, the manner in 
which a particular law reverberates in a society, is a legislative and not a judicial responsibility." 
Pers. Adm'r of Massachusetts v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 272 (1979).  A court may not 
"second-guess the lawmakers on matters of economics, sociology and public policy. . . . Those 
considerations belong exclusively in the legislative domain."  Infants v. Virginia Hous. Dev. 
Auth., 221 Va. 659, 671, 272 S.E.2d 649, 656 (1980).  Regardless of whether it "may or may not 
be better public policy" to interpret Code  60.2-618 as either appellant or the Commission 
urges, "such judgments are not ours to make."  Washington v. Commonwealth, 46 Va. App. 276, 
283, 616 S.E.2d 774, 778 (2005) (en banc). 

Affirmed.

  In its decision granting unemployment benefits in the instant case, the Commission in 
part relied upon Bowles.

  We note that as now constituted, Code  60.2-618(1) addresses this factual situation: 
"An individual shall not be deemed to have voluntarily left work solely because the separation 
was in accordance with a seniority-based policy."  Chapter 559, 1983 Acts of Assembly added 
the quoted language.

  We note that a term employee must meet all eligibility criteria to receive unemployment 
benefits, as would a non-term employee.  See Code  60.2-612 et seq.

  We note the legislature has developed a statutory scheme to provide unemployment 
benefits to strictly defined seasonal agricultural labor.  See Code  60.2-202, 60.2-214 and 
60.2-219.