The sole issue raised on this appeal is whether the employee had sufficient "weeks of employment" to qualify for unemployment benefits.
The right of an unemployed person to receive unemployment compensation benefits is wholly dependent on the fulfillment of the statutory prerequisite embodied in ch. 108 of the statutes.
When an unemployed person applies for benefits under ch. 108 an initial mathematical computation must be made to determine whether the person has accumulated the requisite number of "weeks of employment" during his statutory base period prescribed by sec. 108.04 (4), Stats. That section details various qualifying conditions
"Weeks of employment" are defined in sec. 108.02 (13), Stats. 1963, as follows:
"An employe's `weeks of employment' by an employer means all those weeks within each of which the employe has performed any wage-earning services for the employer in employment subject to this chapter." (Emphasis added.)
In Fredricks v. Industrial Comm.
Fredricks explained that it was incumbent upon the court to adopt the statutory definition of "weeks of employment" because the Unemployment Compensation Act provides its own rule of interpretation in sec. 108.02 (21), Stats. 1953, providing:
"UNDEFINED TERMS. Any word or phrase used in this chapter and not specifically defined herein shall be interpreted in accordance with the common and approved usage thereof and in accordance with other accepted rules of statutory construction. No legislative enactment shall control the meaning or interpretation of any such word or phrase, unless such enactment specifically refers to this chapter or is specifically referred to in this chapter."
It is undisputed that the employee in the instant case had only four actual weeks of wage-earning service within her base period. Despite this concession, the employee argues that the period for which she received
But Fredricks is authority for the proposition that the statutory definition of "weeks of employment" must be literally adhered to even if the result will work injustices in isolated cases. Fredricks involved a claim for unemployment compensation benefits interposed by discharged employees of the Kohler Company. The employees had been engaged in a prolonged strike and had not performed any wage-earning services for the employer during their base periods. The court held that the length of the strike did not suspend or toll the duration of the employer's liability to pay benefits under the Unemployment Compensation Law, and consequently the employees did not have sufficient "weeks of employment" within the ambit of sec. 108.02 (13), Stats., to qualify for benefits. The court concluded that the employees' contentions raised "reasons of policy within the province of the legislature to consider."
In the instant case, the employee has not qualified for benefits solely because she has been prevented from working as a result of her employer's unfair labor practice. It is undisputed that back pay received during a discharge is the equivalent of wages for benefit purposes
The facts in the instant case are readily distinguishable from those which were present in the Fredricks case. Here, the fault of the employer prevented the
In reversing the Industrial Commission, the circuit court relied on Wisconsin Granite Co. v. Industrial Comm.
The court in Wisconsin Granite held that the statute could not be literally applied to occupational disease cases (as opposed to accident cases) because this would be "utterly repugnant to the manifest purpose of the legislature."
Wisconsin Granite involved two "obviously repugnant"
It is undoubtedly true that one of the ultimate objectives of the Unemployment Compensation Act is, as eloquently stated by the trial court, to "cushion the cruel blow of unemployment resulting through no fault of the employee." However, the public policy declarations of the act may not be used to supersede, alter or modify its specific provisions.
The statutory definition of "weeks of employment" in sec. 108.02 (13), Stats., has not been amended by the legislature since the court's decision in Fredricks over nine years ago. In situations such as this, the court's interpretation of a statute becomes a part thereof, unless the legislature subsequently amends the statute to effect a change.
It is inequitable that, as here, an employee may lose her eligibility for unemployment compensation benefits where she is unable to gain sufficient weeks of service because of the fact that she is out of work due to her employer's unfair labor practice in discharging her. Yet that is the result of the plain meaning of sec. 108.02 (13), Stats., and it is for the legislature and not this court to alter the definition.
In this connection we note that the 1967 legislature evinced concern for employees who are caught in predicaments similar to that of Mrs. Salerno, by the introduction
The employee also contends that the WERB reinstatement order, under the provisions of sec. 111.17, Stats. 1963, is paramount and controlling over the provisions of the Unemployment Compensation Act, and if not controlling, that comity between sister agencies compels the Industrial Commission to effectuate the WERB's order by holding that the order created statutory "weeks of employment."
Sec. 111.17, Stats., provides:
There is a possible conflict between the provisions of sec. 111.17 and those of ch. 108, Stats. But sec. 108.02 (21) was enacted as part of ch. 186, Session Laws of 1939, on June 24, 1939, which enactment was later than that of sec. 111.17, which was adopted as
By the Court.—Judgment reversed.