This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Thomas T. Scheiderich,
Finlay Fine Jewelry Corp.,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Department of Economic Security
File No. 2904 02
Thomas T. Scheiderich, 7333 Gallagher Drive, #226, Edina, MN 55435 (pro se relator)
Finlay Fine Jewelry Corp., Bloomington Loc #2955, c/o Sheakley Uniservice, Inc., P.O. Box 42212, Cincinnati, OH 45242 (respondent)
Linda A. Holmes, Department of Economic Security, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent commissioner)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Poritsky, Judge.
Relator challenges the decision of the commissioner’s representative disqualifying him from receiving unemployment benefits. Because we conclude that when relator quit his job (1) he did not quit for a good reason caused by his employer, and (2) he did not quit because of a serious illness or injury, we affirm.
Respondent Finlay Fine Jewelry Corp. (Finlay) operates the fine jewelry departments in large department stores. Finlay ran the fine jewelry departments in four Herberger’s stores located in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
Relator Thomas Scheiderich began working for Finlay on September 23, 2001. Initially, Finlay hired Scheiderich to be the manager of the fine jewelry department in the Southtown Herberger’s. But just before his first day of work, Finlay contacted Scheiderich and offered him an additional $3,000 per year if he would also act as the area supervisor for the fine jewelry departments in the three other Herberger’s stores located in the metro area. Scheiderich accepted Finlay’s offer, which brought his total salary to $30,000 per year.
As a manager of Finlay’s operation in the Southtown Herberger’s, Scheiderich was expected to handle staffing, oversee sales and sales goals, maintain visual standards, address customer-service issues, and take care of any other operational matters. In addition, he was to oversee the Finlay operations in the other three metro-area Herberger’s stores, ensuring that the other stores were staffed, running smoothly, and meeting their sales goals.
Soon after Scheiderich started working, he encountered severe staffing problems. Scheiderich testified that he was not made aware of the severity of the staffing issues when he took the job. But Finlay representative Mitchell Rivera, one of the people who interviewed Scheiderich for the position, testified that Scheiderich was told that staffing was his responsibility and that there were staffing problems. Scheiderich testified that two of the four stores had not had department managers for several months and that many of the day-to-day operational duties had not been taken care of. Scheiderich also testified that Finlay’s rate of pay was substantially lower than other stores in the metro area and that because the rate of pay was so low, he often had to hire employees with little experience, which placed a great burden on management.
Scheiderich testified that he quit because of the strain of the job and physical and mental stress. Scheiderich testified that he was essentially performing two jobs in one by managing the Southtown store and overseeing the operations of the other stores. Because of the staffing problems, he sometimes had to work nine-hour days without a break. Scheiderich testified that he spent a substantial amount of time hiring new staff for the other stores and trying to get the jewelry departments of the other stores up and running. During the first thirty days of his employment he had to hire a new staff for the Midway Herbergers, which had been without a department manager for several months. Scheiderich testified that there were occasions when the staffing problems were so severe that the jewelry department would have to be closed for short periods of time. When Finlay told Scheiderich that he could no longer leave the department without staff present, Scheiderich resorted to bringing in managers from the other stores in the area so he could have a lunch break. When Scheiderich was not at work, he often had people calling him at home with employee problems, such as employees quitting, calling in sick, or not showing up for a shift.
Scheiderich testified that he complained to the department store managers and to Finlay regarding the staffing problems. In response, Finlay sent representatives to help Scheiderich recruit new employees. Rivera testified that the severe staffing issues Scheiderich had were not typical of Finlay’s other locations around the country. He testified that most of Finlay’s stores are in Chicago and Milwaukee and that the Twin Cities is a remote market for Finlay with only a few small jewelry departments. Rivera also testified that Scheiderich came in from the outside and that he thought Scheiderich had problems motivating and building rapport with his staff, which resulted in a high turnover rate.
Scheiderich claims that at one point while he was working he contacted Finlay’s human-resources manager and asked if he would be covered under worker’s compensation if he left and went to the emergency room because he was having dizzy spells and chest pains. He testified that he was told that he would not be covered by worker’s compensation, that he would have to go at his own expense, and that if he decided to leave, he should find someone to staff the department while he was gone, unless he felt he was having a heart attack. Scheiderich testified that two days after he resigned, he had a mild heart attack and spent two days in the VA Hospital. Scheiderich claims that while working for Finlay, he developed hypertension and high blood pressure, and suffered from dizzy spells, chest pains, and shortness of breath.
Scheiderich gave two week’s notice. His last day of work was December 12, 2001. When Scheiderich initially gave his two week’s notice, Finlay offered him the opportunity to manage only the Southtown store and give up the job of overseeing the other stores, but Scheiderich declined the offer. Scheiderich testified that he declined the offer because he was having health problems and he believed that the staffing problems would continue. He testified that he was not interested in taking a pay cut and being demoted and still having to deal with many of the same problems.
Scheiderich applied for unemployment benefits. An adjudicator from the Minnesota Department of Economic Security found that Scheiderich quit because of a good reason caused by the employer and that he was entitled to unemployment benefits. Finlay appealed to an unemployment law judge, who reversed the decision of the adjudicator and held that Scheiderich did not quit because of a good reason caused by the employer. Scheiderich appealed the judge’s decision to the Commissioner of Economic Security. The commissioner’s representative affirmed the decision of the unemployment law judge. Scheiderich seeks review by this court.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal, Scheiderich argues that the commissioner’s representative erred in ruling that Scheiderich was not entitled to collect unemployment benefits. “The findings of the commissioner’s representative are accorded considerable deference.” Edward v. Sentinel Mgmt. Co., 611 N.W.2d 366, 367 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Aug. 15, 2000). The factual findings of the commissioner’s representative are viewed in the light most favorable to the decision; the appellate court determines whether there is evidence in the record that reasonably tends to sustain those findings. Lolling v. Midwest Patrol, 545 N.W.2d 372, 377 (Minn. 1996). While this court defers to the findings of fact, we exercise independent judgment with respect to questions of law. Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989).
1. Good Reason Caused by the Employer
Scheiderich argues that the commissioner’s representative erred in holding that Scheiderich did not quit for a good reason caused by the employer. A person who quit employment is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits, unless the person “quit the employment because of a good reason caused by the employer.” Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2002). Minnesota law provides:
(a) A good reason caused by the employer for quitting is a reason:
(1) that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible; and
(2) that is significant and would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed rather than remaining in the employment.
(b) If an applicant was subjected to adverse working conditions by the employer, the applicant must complain to the employer and give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions before that may be considered a good reason caused by the employer for quitting.
Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(a), (b) (2002). The reason “must be real, not imaginary, substantial not trifling, and reasonable, not whimsical.” Ferguson v. Dept. of Employment Servs., 311 Minn. 34, 44 n.5, 247 N.W.2d 895, 900 n.5 (1976) (quotation omitted). A good reason caused by the employer does not include situations where an employee is “simply frustrated or dissatisfied with his working conditions.” Portz v. Pipestone Skelgas, 397 N.W.2d 12, 14 (Minn. App. 1986) (citations omitted). Whether or not an employee quit for a good reason is a question of law that we review de novo. Edward, 611 N.W.2d at 367.
The record shows that Scheiderich was subject to difficult and stressful working conditions. Most likely, Scheiderich was unaware of the full extent of the staffing problems when he started the job, and there is little doubt that he had to deal with major staffing shortages at his store and at the other stores he oversaw. Even though Scheiderich was subject to difficult working conditions, when Scheiderich told Finlay he was going to resign, Finlay offered him the option of managing only the Southtown location and relieving him of the responsibility of overseeing the operations of the other three stores. The offer required him to give up the additional $3,000 per year and was intended to relieve some of his job stress, improve his working conditions, and persuade him to stay. Scheiderich declined the offer because he was having health problems, and he expected that the staffing problems would continue. However, accepting the offer would have reduced his responsibilities and given him a better opportunity to deal with staffing problems, and may well have reduced his stress. We conclude that a reasonable employee would have accepted the offer, at least long enough to determine whether the reduced responsibilities corrected the adverse working conditions, before quitting. On this record, we conclude that when Scheiderich refused Finlay’s offer and decided to resign, he quit under circumstances that would not compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed, rather than remaining in the employment. Therefore, the commissioner’s representative did not err in ruling that Scheiderich did not quit for a good reason caused by his employer.
2. Serious Illness or Injury
Scheiderich argues that the commissioner’s representative erred in ruling (1) that when Scheiderich quit, he did not quit because of a serious illness, and (2) that he did not make reasonable efforts to remain employed in spite of any serious illness. A person who quit employment is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits, unless the person
quit the employment because the applicant’s serious illness or injury made it medically necessary that the applicant quit, provided that the applicant made reasonable efforts to remain in that employment in spite of the serious illness or injury.
Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(7) (2002). Minnesota law states that
reasonable efforts to remain in that employment are those a reasonable individual would make if interested in remaining with the employer and require that the applicant inform the employer of the serious illness or injury and request accommodation.
Id. An employee bears the burden of proving that the serious illness exception applies. Minchew v. Minnesota Odd Fellows Home, 429 N.W.2d 702, 703 (Minn. App. 1988).
Scheiderich testified that while he was working for Finlay the staffing problems caused him high levels of stress. He testified further that while working for Finlay, he developed hypertension and high blood pressure and that he suffered from dizzy spells, chest pains, shortness of breath. To qualify for the medical-necessity exception, the employee must have informed the employer of the serious illness and requested an accommodation. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(7). Even though on one occasion Scheiderich contacted the manager of human resources to see if he would be covered by worker’s compensation for a visit to the hospital to treat chest pains and dizzy spells, there is nothing in the record to show that he actually informed Finlay about a serious illness or that he requested an accommodation. For that reason, we sustain the finding that Scheiderich did not make reasonable efforts to remain in employment in spite of a serious illness, and we conclude that the commissioner’s representative did not err in ruling that Scheiderich did not quit because of a serious illness or injury.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 Rivera testified that Finlay would never tell employees that they could not take a lunch break. He testified that if there were not enough staff to cover a lunch break, someone should be contacted at one of the other area stores to come over and cover the department. If no one at another store was available, then it was permissible to contact the manager of the department store to obtain staffing assistance, or have the department store security put cameras on the department while the employee used the restroom, took a break, or ate lunch.