Legal Voice, along with the Washington Employment Lawyers’ Association, recently joined Northwest Justice Project’s amicus brief to the Washington Supreme Court in Darkenwald v. State of Washington, an unemployment compensation case involving a disabled part-time worker.
Linda Darkenwald was employed as a dental hygienist for 25 years, but had been working only two days each week during the last four years due to a work-related neck and back injury. In July 2010, her employer informed Ms. Darkenwald that she would need to begin working three days per week. Ms. Darkenwald could not work the additional hours due to her disability, so she was forced to leave her job.
Ms. Darkenwald was denied unemployment benefits when she refused to stay at a job after it was converted to full-time. Yet the unemployment compensation statute establishes a class of part-time workers who remain eligible for benefits even if they seek or accept only work that is up to seventeen hours per week. This law ensures that those whose availability to work is limited by health, family obligations, or other important considerations are not denied unemployment benefits.
This ruling undermines an essential protection for part-time workers that grants them the ability to claim unemployment benefits when they leave a position due to a “substantial change in working conditions.” We argue that the Court of Appeals incorrectly treated Ms. Darkenwald’s inability to increase her weekly work hours as a “voluntary quit,” and that the Washington Supreme Court should reverse the ruling.