This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).


Joseph J. Spark,


Hudson Foods, Inc.,

Commissioner of Economic Security,

Filed November 9, 1999
Klaphake, Judge

Department of Economic Security
File No. 450 UC 99

Joseph H. Spark, Rural Route 2, Box 84, Albert Lea, MN 56007 (relator pro se)

Hudson Foods, Inc., c/o The Frick Company, P.O. Box 283, St. Louis, MO 63166-0283 (respondent/employer)

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

Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Pro se relator Joseph J. Spark challenges a decision by a representative of the respondent Commissioner of Economic Security that disqualified Spark from receiving reemployment insurance benefits. Because the evidence establishes that Spark quit his employment for good reason caused by his employer, respondent Hudson Foods, Inc., (Hudson Foods), we reverse.


An employee who voluntarily terminates employment is disqualified from benefits unless he quits because of a "good reason caused by the employer." Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (1998). The initial burden is on an employer to establish that the employee voluntarily quit and was not discharged. Marz v. Department of Employment Servs., 256 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn. 1977). Spark claims that he was laid off, citing a statement contained in the file in which a department employee wrote that "[t]he claimant was laid off due to lack of work." This statement, however, was apparently made in error and was not repeated in any other documents submitted by the department, the employer, or Spark himself. Tellingly, Spark admitted that he quit his job in a number of other written statements contained in the file and during his testimony at the hearing. Thus, the commissioner's representative could reasonably find that Spark voluntarily quit his job. See Midland Elec., Inc. v. Johnson, 372 N.W.2d 810, 812 (Minn. App. 1985) (whether employee voluntarily quit or was discharged is question of fact to be determined by commissioner).

The burden then shifts to the employee to show that he quit due to a good reason caused by the employer. Marz, 256 N.W.2d at 289. A "good reason caused by the employer" is a reason that is "directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible" and that is "significant and would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit." Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3 (1998). On undisputed facts, the issue of whether good reason exists is a question of law which this court reviews de novo. Porazzo v. Nabisco, Inc., 360 N.W.2d 662, 664 (Minn. App. 1985).

Spark was employed as a night sanitation worker by meat processor Hudson Foods. In early October 1998, Spark began an approved medical leave of absence due to stress-related symptoms. In the months prior to his leave, Spark, who was also a union steward, claimed that Hudson Foods had placed unreasonable demands on him and had subjected him to increased scrutiny. Spark had also received several written warnings for poor job performance. These warnings were based on his failure to comply with known procedures involving the use of a flashlight to inspect an area after he had completed cleaning it. Spark explained that he received these warnings on nights when he was unable to adequately complete his duties because he had run out of time and was in a hurry.

Prior to his scheduled return on November 24, Spark learned that his job duties had been combined with duties from another job. Based on his experience, Spark estimated that each job would take him at least six hours to complete. Although Spark requested another job assignment, he was told he would have to work at these jobs for a few weeks and use the bidding process to obtain a reassignment. Believing that he would be unable to adequately and timely perform both jobs and that he would be subjected to continued warnings and dismissal, Spark quit.

At the evidentiary hearing before the reemployment insurance judge, Spark submitted a letter from one of his former supervisors who stated that he had participated at a team management meeting where two managers had indicated they "would begin to personally pursue ways to terminate Mr. Spark." This former supervisor further stated that at least half "of our sanitation crew has turned over during the last 3-4 months as a result of terminations, quits, and a very few transfers."

Spark also submitted a letter from his psychologist who stated that when Spark returned from his medical leave of absence, he "discovered that his supervisor was still placing unfair expectations on him" by combining his former job assignment with duties formerly assigned to another worker. The psychologist concluded that Spark "made a reasonable decision to resign in order to avoid a work situation in which he felt that there was a hostile attitude toward him by management and which had previously caused him to develop stress-related symptoms."

Based on these two documents, we conclude as a matter of law that Spark quit for good reason caused by his employer. See, e.g., Zepp v. Arthur Treacher Fish & Chips, Inc., 272 N.W.2d 262, 263 (Minn. 1978) (reversing commissioner's decision where employer "made unreasonable demands [upon] employee that no one person could be expected to meet," when it substantially increased employee's duties and work hours); Porrazzo, 360 N.W.2d at 663-64 (reversing commissioner's decision where employee's work hours and responsibilities increased substantially, without any increase in salary, and where employee had "unworkable relationship with his immediate supervisor"). This conclusion is entirely consistent with the remedial nature of the reemployment insurance statutes and the policy of the reemployment insurance system to provide benefits to those individuals who become unemployed through "no fault of their own." McGowan v. Executive Express Transp. Enters., Inc., 420 N.W.2d 592, 595 (Minn. 1988).

The decision of the commissioner's representative is reversed.