This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




Jeffrey J. Ehlenz,



Northern Oil, Inc.,


Commissioner of Economic Security,


Filed April 8, 1997


Lansing, Judge

Department of Economic Security

File No. 5470UC96

Brenda L. Theis, 26 North Seventh Avenue, Post Office Box 1794, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for Relator)

Michael C. Rajkowski, Hughes, Thoreen, Relph & Hanson, P.A., 110 South Sixth Avenue, Suite 200, Post Office Box 1718, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1718 (for Respondent Northern Oil, Inc.)

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

Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.



In an appeal from the denial of reemployment insurance benefits, we affirm the Commissioner's determination of voluntary termination without good cause attributable to the employer. The record supports the Commissioner's determination that the employee's resignation, when asked to change from a salary to a commission wage structure, was a voluntary separation from employment.


Jeffrey Ehlenz began working for Northern Oil on December 1, 1995, at a yearly salary of $32,000. In the spring of 1996, Northern Oil's owner, Russ Pikus, became dissatisfied with the amount of time Ehlenz spent in the office rather than making deliveries to customers and with Ehlenz's reluctance to reduce the hours of a part-time employee who was making the deliveries. In May 1996 Pikus expressed this dissatisfaction to Ehlenz and asked him to accept a commission wage. Ehlenz objected, stating that he did not want to change to a commission in the summer when business was slow. Pikus offered to base the commission on the entire work year, but Ehlenz refused to discuss it. Ehlenz reported for work the next day, but did not report after that date. A week later Pikus reached Ehlenz by phone, and Ehlenz again stated that he did not want to discuss the commission rate with Pikus. Ehlenz performed no further work for Northern Oil.

Ehlenz filed a claim for reemployment insurance benefits, and the claim was denied by a claims adjudicator and a reemployment insurance judge. The Commissioner's representative affirmed the denial, reasoning that because Northern Oil's decision to change Ehlenz from salary to commission was based on inadequate job performance, the change in compensation did not constitute good cause to quit. Ehlenz now appeals.


A person who voluntarily quits a job without "good cause attributable to the employer" is disqualified from receiving reemployment insurance benefits. Minn. Stat. § 268.09, subd. 1(a) (1996). The employee has the burden to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the separation was with good cause attributable to the employer. Marz v. Department of Employment Servs., 256 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn. 1977). An employee does not have good cause for separation when he directly or indirectly exercises a free-will choice to leave employment. Seacrist v. City of Cottage Grove, 344 N.W.2d 889, 891 (Minn. App. 1984). On appeal the Commissioner's representative's findings are reviewed in the light most favorable to the decision, and the findings must be affirmed if there is evidence in the record reasonably tending to sustain them. White v. Metropolitan Medical Ctr., 332 N.W.2d 25, 26 (Minn. 1983).

Ehlenz maintains that he had good cause to discontinue employment because Northern Oil reduced his pay, increased his duties, and breached his employment contract.

Case law supports the general rule that "[a] substantial reduction in wages may provide an employee with good cause to quit." Cook v. Playworks, 541 N.W.2d 366, 368 (Minn. App. 1996) (citing Scott v. Photo Ctr., Inc., 306 Minn. 535, 536, 235 N.W.2d 616, 617 (1975)). But the evidence does not demonstrate that the change from salary to commission would constitute a "substantial" reduction in pay. Even if Ehlenz would have experienced a temporary salary reduction during the slow summer months, the record indicates that over the long term, Ehlenz likely would have received approximately the same earnings that he had received while salaried--$32,000 per year. Furthermore, Pikus offered to recalculate Ehlenz's salary from December on a commission basis.

The record also fails to support Ehlenz's claim that his separation was justified by a substantial increase in duties. Ehlenz was previously employed by Northern Oil's predecessor on a commission basis. But Ehlenz agreed to accept different responsibilities at the time Northern Oil hired him, even though the salary he was offered was not greater than the amounts he had received as commission. These facts are unlike the facts of Ehlenz's cited authority, Nelson v. Bemidji Reg'l Interdistrict Council, 359 N.W.2d 38 (Minn. App. 1984), in which an employee in continuous employment resigned when her responsibilities increased sixteen percent without a commensurate increase in salary. We also reject Ehlenz's argument that forcing him to reduce the part-time employee's hours demonstrates a substantial increase in Ehlenz's work responsibilities. The request to reduce the hours was made at the end of the busy fuel-oil season when the additional assistance was not needed or contemplated.

Finally, Ehlenz argues that his separation was for good cause because Northern Oil breached its employment contract with him. The record does not contain any evidence of an agreement that altered the at-will employment relationship between Ehlenz and Northern Oil. See Phipps v. Clark Oil & Refining Corp., 396 N.W.2d 588, 590 (Minn. App. 1986) (listing exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine), aff'd, 408 N.W.2d 569 (Minn. 1987).