This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).






Steven M. Orstad,


Mike Johnson Construction,
Commissioner of Economic Security,


Filed April 3, 2001


Stoneburner, Judge


Commissioner of Economic Security

File No. 442200


Steven M. Orstad, Route 2, Box 80, Sandstone, MN 55072-9520 (relator pro se)


Mike Johnson Construction, M P J Enterprises, LLC, Box 684, Sandstone, MN 55072 (respondent/employer pro se)


Kent E. Todd, Minnesota Department of Economic Security, 390 North Robert Street,  St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner)



            Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N




Relator-employee Steven M. Orstad sought unemployment benefits after he failed to return to work following a temporary lay-off.  The commissioner’s representative determined that Orstad was disqualified from receiving benefits because he failed to accept suitable employment without good cause.  Orstad appeals, contending that he did not refuse the offer and that there were various unresolved issues with his employer.  Because Orstad refused to accept suitable employment without good cause, we affirm.



            In 1992, Steven M. Orstad began working for Mike Johnson Construction (Johnson Construction) as an equipment operator and mechanic.  In December 1999, Johnson Construction laid Orstad off due to a seasonal shortage of work.  At the time, Orstad was earning $15 per hour and working approximately 50 hours a week. 

            On or about February 24, 2000, Orstad’s former boss, Mike Johnson, called Orstad to inform him that work would resume the first Monday in March (March 6, 2000).[1]  Orstad asked what his wage would be when he returned, and Johnson indicated that it would remain $15 per hour.  Johnson told Orstad that the company was implementing a retirement plan and considering the possibility of providing health-care coverage for its employees.  Orstad understood that Johnson was inquiring about Orstad’s availability to return to work, and Orstad told Johnson he would think about it, but that he intended to complete some home-improvement projects over the next couple of weeks.

Orstad did not return to work on March 6 or any time thereafter.  Orstad asserts that he did not refuse to return to work.  Orstad also claims that Johnson treated him unfairly by failing to equally compensate him for a new pickup truck that Johnson purchased for his brother in 1998,[2] and that Johnson failed to pay him for snowplowing work done on February 15, 2000.   



Our review of a denial of unemployment benefits is limited.  We accord the commissioner’s decisions “particular deference,” and this court will affirm if there is “reasonable support in the evidence” to sustain the commissioner’s decision.  Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995) (citations omitted).  Nonetheless, the ultimate determination of whether an employee is properly disqualified from receiving benefits is a question of law, which we review de novo.  Lolling v. Midwest Patrol, 545 N.W.2d 372, 377 (Minn. 1996).

Suitable Employment

If a person fails to accept an offer of suitable employment without good cause, he or she is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 8(a)(2) (2000).  Here, the commissioner’s representative ruled that “Orstad failed without good cause to accept suitable employment offered to him by Mike Johnson Construction.”  Whether a suitable offer of employment has been made is a question of fact, involving a determination of credibility to be decided by the commissioner.  Willrich v. Top Temp., Inc., 379 N.W.2d 731, 732 (Minn. App. 1986); see generally Lolling, 545 N.W.2d at 377 (limiting review of commissioner’s factual findings to whether evidence, viewed in light most favorable to the decision, supports that decision).  Suitable employment is “employment in the applicant’s labor market area that is reasonably related to the applicant’s qualifications.” Minn. Stat. § 268.035, subd. 23a(a) (2000).

Before Orstad was laid off, he worked as a seasonal equipment operator and mechanic for Johnson Construction, at a rate of $15 per hour for 50 hours per week.  Mike Johnson offered to rehire Orstad for the same position Orstad previously held, for the same wage and same number of hours per week.  The only change was the addition of a retirement plan and the likely prospect of health-care coverage.  Under these facts, Johnson Construction presented Orstad with an offer of suitable employment.  See, e.g., Preiss v. Commissioner of Econ. Sec., 347 N.W.2d 74, 76 (Minn. App. 1984) (noting “suitable work” defined as work employee customarily performs or is fitted to perform).

Good Cause


Where a suitable offer has been made, Orstad must show he had good cause to reject the offer.  See Lewis v. Minneapolis Moline, Inc., 288 Minn. 432, 435-36, 181 N.W.2d 701, 704 (1970).  Whether Orstad had good cause to refuse Johnson’s offer of suitable employment is a question of law that this court reviews de novo.  See Lolling, 545 N.W.2d at 377.  Generally, “good cause” is something that would cause a reasonable individual to fail to accept or avoid suitable employment, including:

(1) the applicant is employed in other suitable employment;

(2) the applicant is in reemployment assistance training;

(3) the applicant formerly worked for the employer and the loss of employment occurred prior to the commencement of a labor dispute, was permanent or for an indefinite period, and the applicant failed to apply for or accept the employment because a labor dispute was in progress at the establishment; or

(4) the applicant formerly worked for the employer and quit that employment because of a good reason caused by the employer.


Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 8(b) (2000).  Here, Mike Johnson notified Orstad on February 24, 2000 that work would resume March 6.  Orstad responded that he wanted to finish some home-improvement projects before he returned to work, and he did not return to work on the specified date or any time thereafter.  Orstad’s excuse that he wanted to complete his home-improvement projects cannot reasonably constitute a valid excuse for refusing suitable employment.  Cf. Hill v. Contract Beverages, Inc., 307 Minn. 356, 358, 240 N.W.2d 314, 316 (1976) (indicating employee’s failure to reach job due to transportation difficulty not good cause to decline offer); Grushus v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., 257 Minn. 171, 176, 100 N.W.2d 516, 520 (1960) (finding inability to accept reemployment offer because of incarceration not good cause).  Although Orstad was free to reject Johnson’s offer to rehire him, Orstad cannot draw unemployment as a result of his refusal; Orstad did not become unemployed through no fault of his own.  See Minn. Stat. § 268.03, subd. 1 (2000) (noting unemployment benefits available only to those who become “unemployed through no fault of their own”).

Orstad argues that he had good cause to reject Johnson’s offer because of circumstances and work conditions caused by Johnson.  See Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 8(b)(4) (stating good cause includes “the applicant formerly worked for the employer and quit that employment because of a good reason caused by the employer”).  Orstad alleges that Johnson treated him unfairly because Johnson should have given him equal compensation for a new pickup truck that Johnson purchased for his brother.[3]  Johnson agreed to pay Orstad an additional $2,000 per year as compensation, but Orstad believed that Johnson should have paid him $8,000.[4]  The commissioner’s representative found that Johnson did not agree to pay Orstad the $8,000, and this finding deserves deference.  See Lolling, 545 N.W.2d at 377; LaSalle Cartage Co. v. Hampton, 362 N.W.2d 337, 341 (Minn. App. 1985) (indicating credibility judgments are the province of commissioner’s representative, not of this court).  In addition, Orstad asserts that Johnson failed to pay him for a snowplowing job he performed in mid-February.  The commissioner’s representative found no evidence, however, that this influenced Orstad’s decision to refuse Johnson’s offer of employment, and the record supports this finding.  Orstad implies that because Johnson was “uncooperative in resolving these issues,” the result was a “very stressful and difficult” workplace, which forced Orstad to seek work elsewhere.  There is no evidence in the record to support Orstad’s claims that these factors influenced his refusal to return to work on March 6.  Even if Orstad preferred alternative employment, this does not qualify as good cause.  See Lewis, 288 Minn. at 438, 181 N.W.2d at 705 (noting preference for other employment is not good cause for rejecting suitable job offer).

The evidence in the record reasonably supports the commissioner’s representative’s determination that Orstad failed to accept an offer of suitable employment without good cause.  As a matter of law, Orstad is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.



[1] All the documents submitted below refer to March 1, 2000, but testimony shows that the date discussed was actually the first Monday in March, which was March 6.  Orstad did not appear for work at any time in March.

[2] Johnson’s brother also works for Johnson Construction.

[3] Johnson’s brother used the truck on and off the work site.

[4] Nothing in the record indicates that the parties entered into any formal agreement with respect to ‘equal compensation’ for the pickup truck.