This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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




Ronald J. Phillips,



Tri-State Boring Inc.,


Commissioner of Economic Security,


Filed August 25, 1998


Harten, Judge

Department of Economic Security

Agency File No. 10130U97

Emmett D. Dowdal, Matthew A. Tubridy, 995 Wildwood Road, White Bear Lake, MN 55115 (for relator)

Kent E. Todd, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent commissioner)

Tri-State Boring, Inc., 387 East Eldridge, Roseville, MN 55113 (respondent employer)

Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.*



Relator Ronald J. Phillips appeals a decision denying him reemployment insurance benefits based on a determination that he quit his job without a good reason caused by the employer. We affirm.


On November 4, 1997, Phillips terminated his employment as a foreman-operator for respondent Tri-State Boring, Inc. and filed a claim for reemployment insurance benefits with the Department of Economic Security. The department disqualified him from benefits, finding that he quit without a good reason caused by the employer.

Phillips appealed the decision, and a hearing before a reemployment insurance judge was held. Phillips and Mark Bigelbach, the president of Tri-State Boring, testified. Phillips testified that problems with the brakes, exhaust systems, safety equipment, electrical parts, lights, and hydraulic "jaws" made the trucks and boring equipment unsafe. He stated that they had waited three or four months for some replacement parts. Bigelbach testified that when Phillips requested replacement parts for the machinery, he would order them. He agreed that some parts were difficult to obtain. Bigelbach testified that Phillips never reported to him that the equipment was unsafe. Much of the testimony focused on the boring machine "jaws." Bigelbach stated that the equipment (pipe wrenches) used in lieu of jaws was safe.

Phillips also testified that he had trouble cashing several payroll checks. Bigelbach testified that Phillips never informed him that any payroll checks had bounced. According to Bigelbach's records, all of the checks to Phillips had cleared.

The reemployment insurance judge affirmed the department's decision. Phillips appealed to the commissioner. The commissioner's representative affirmed the findings and conclusions of the reemployment insurance judge, finding that the employer made necessary repairs when informed of equipment problems, that Phillips never informed the employer that the equipment was unsafe, that the equipment was not unsafe, and that Phillips never informed the employer that his checks had bounced. Phillips obtained certiorari review by this court.


An employee who quits employment is disqualified from benefits "unless the claimant quit the employment because of a good reason caused by the employer." Minn. Stat. § 268.09, subd. 1a(1) (Supp. 1997).[1] The employee bears the burden of showing good reason to quit. See Zepp v. Arthur Treacher Fish & Chips, Inc., 272 N.W.2d 262, 263 (Minn. 1978) (employee bears burden of showing good cause to quit).

Factual findings are viewed in the light most favorable to the decision and will not be disturbed if there is evidence reasonably tending to sustain them. White v. Metropolitan Med. Ctr., 332 N.W.2d 25, 26 (Minn. 1983). Whether an employee quit for good reason is a question of law. Zepp, 272 N.W.2d at 263. We exercise our independent judgment on questions of law. Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989).

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.

Minn. Stat. § 268.09, subd. 9(a) (Supp. 1997). In cases involving safety, this court asks whether the employee's concerns were reasonable at the time of quitting, regardless of whether the equipment in fact was safe. Haskins v. Choice Auto Rental, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 507, 511 (Minn. App. 1997).

Even if the concerns are reasonable, however, an employee's failure to complain to the employer about problematic work conditions before quitting forecloses an award of benefits. Parnell v. River Bend Carriers, Inc., 484 N.W.2d 442, 445 (Minn. App. 1992). An employee has a duty to inform the employer of offensive work conditions to allow the employer an opportunity to correct the situation; in the absence of this information, the unemployment is not caused by the employer. Larson v. Department of Econ. Sec., 281 N.W.2d 667, 669 (Minn. 1979).

The commissioner's representative found that Phillips never informed his employer that he believed the equipment was unsafe. This finding is reasonably supported by the evidence. At the hearing, Bigelbach testified that:

There were times when parts were hard to get ahold of and we had to go through different sources, but unsafe, no, [Phillips] never mentioned anything being unsafe, just things needed to be working so they worked right and we're productive.

Because Phillips did not make the employer aware of his safety concerns, the employer was given no opportunity to address those concerns, and Phillips' unemployment was not caused by the employer. Phillips is disqualified from receiving benefits on this issue, and we need not address whether his safety concerns were reasonable. Difficulty in cashing payroll checks can constitute good reason to quit. Wonder Indus., Inc. v. Marohn, 345 N.W.2d 272, 273 (Minn. App. 1984). But Bigelbach's testimony supports the finding that the employer was not aware of any problems with Phillips' payroll checks. Bigelbach testified that Phillips never informed him of any bounced checks and presented records showing that all of Phillips' checks had cleared. Because Phillips did not inform the employer of the payroll check problem before quitting, he is foreclosed from a finding of good reason to quit caused by the employer.


*Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] This statutory language was amended in 1997 from the previous standard of "good cause attributable to the employer." Minn. Stat. § 268.09, subd. 1 (a) (1996). The change in language is merely a clarification and does not affect our analysis.