Benefits in Store After Western Union Layoffs

     JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – Advance layoff notice given to two Western Union workers did not preclude them from receiving unemployment benefits, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled.
     Reva Billings and William Morrison had worked as operators at a call center Western Union Financial Services operated in Bridgeton, Mo.
     On July 3, 2008, Western Union gave the pair advance notice that they would be laid off in the coming weeks.
     Billings and Morrison were told that their last days would be July 20 and Aug. 7, respectively, but they were placed on a paid notice period in the interim during which time they did not have to go to work.
     About a year later, the Labor Department concluded that former employees of the Western Union’s Bridgeton facility were eligible for benefits under the Trade Act of 1974. It set July 15, 2008, as the impact date.
     Former employees would not be eligible for Trade Act benefits if their date of separation from employment preceded the determined impact date.
     Billings and Morrison submitted their application for benefits, but the Missouri Division of Employment Security concluded that they were ineligible because it said their date of separation was July 3 – the date they were sent home with notice.
     After the appeals tribunal and the Industrial Relations Commission affirmed, Billings and Morrison brought the case to the Missouri Court of Appeal.
     The Missouri Supreme Court, which subsequently granted transfer of the case, reversed on Tuesday.
     “The July 3, 2008, notice gave 15 days notice before the workers’ furloughs became effective,” Judge Laura Denvir Stith wrote for the en banc court. “They were paid wages for the following period, not any special type of notice or furlough or vacation pay – to the contrary, the union contract forbid the notice from being given during a worker’s vacation period and required notice prior to furlough, not paid time after furlough. Western Union also failed to provide the workers with any notice that they were no longer subject to being called into work. That Western Union chose not to have them come into their workplace once they were told that they would be laid off in the near future may have made good business and security sense, but it did not change the fact that they still were employed during the 15-day notice period between being notified that they would later be furloughed and the dates on which the later furloughs actually became effective.” (Emphasis in original.)
     The decision sends the case back to the Industrial Relations Commission for further consideration.
     Chief Judge Richard Teitelman concurred along with Judges Mary Russell, Patricia Breckenridge, Zel Fischer and Paul Wilson. Judge George Draper III did not participate.

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