Suitable Work SW 150

Travel: Time, Distance and Cost

This Section discusses refusals of job offers or referrals due to lack of transportation, reluctance to use available transportation, and the time, distance, and cost involved in commuting.

It is important to note that the reason for refusal of work or referral may also raise a question of availability.

A. General

Unemp. Ins. Code 1258 provides in part:

"In determining whether the work is work for which the individual is reasonably fitted, the director shall consider . . . the length of unemployment and prospects for securing local work in his customary occupation, and the distance of the available work from his residence . . . . "

Correspondingly, in P-B-303, the Board stated:

"Although the distance to work must be considered, the adequacy of the transportation facilities and the time consumed in daily travel to and from work are of greater importance. Also of importance are the custom and practice in the community of the claimant’s residence respecting the matter of travel to and from work . . . and the length of time that the particular claimant has been unemployed at the time of the refusal . . . ."

Length of unemployment is a significant factor inetermining the area in which a claimant must be willing to seek and accept employment. As the period of unemployment extends, the area within which the claimant must be available for work expands. When the claimant’s prospects for securing work are good and the length of unemployment has been brief, the individual may restrict to a distance to work which under the reverse circumstances would be unreasonable.

B. Transportation

In P-B-25, the Board pointed out that problems of transportation for work are the personal problem of the employee. And, while this case involves a separation issue, the same concept holds true for refusals of a job offer or referral.

A claimant may have good cause to refuse an offer or referral to work if the individual cannot obtain any adequate means of transportation to the prospective employment. It is the claimant’s responsibility to verify that adequate transportation does not exist. For example, if a claimant refuses a job offer on the assumption that there is no available transportation when, in fact, a bus line runs within three blocks of the employment and two blocks of his home, the claimant would not have good cause for the refusal because he did not verify his conclusion prior to refusing the offer of work. However, if the claimant attempts to secure information regarding available transportation and, through no fault of his or her own, is unable to obtain such information, the claimant’s erroneous conclusion would be excusable.

In P-B-303 the claimant, who lived in San Francisco, refused a referral to suitable employment in Oakland. The claimant told the Department she was not interested in the job because of the commuting problem. The prospective employment was accessible by public transportation. In its decision the Board stated:

"We have had occasion in prior cases to consider the effect of the transportation problem as it relates to questions of good cause under Section . . . (1257(b) of the code). . . . In the instant case, the place of prospective employment was accessible by adequate public transportation from the claimant’s residence . . . . In view of the commuting habits of the community in which the claimant resided, . . . it is our opinion that the claimant failed to apply for suitable work without good cause . . . ."

Claimants are sometimes unable or unwilling to use available means of transportation because of health limitations, risk of personal injury, or personal inconvenience. Where it is inadvisable for the claimant to use available transportation due to verifiable health reasons, the claimant will have good cause for refusal. However, personal convenience or preference will not constitute good cause for a refusal of suitable work.

If a claimant’s only alternative is to use a route or type of transportation that involves a significant risk to his or her safety, the claimant may have good cause for refusal of a job offer or referral. However, if the claimant does not establish that the route or type of transportation would create an undue risk to his or her safety and that there is no alternative means, good cause cannot be established for the refusal.

C. Time

Claimants may refuse employment due to the amount of time they will be required to spend traveling to the job. If the time required to commute to the prospective employment is customary for others in the claimant’s occupation and community, the time spent cannot be considered unreasonable.

It should be noted that the Board has consistently held one hour’s travel time is not an excessive commute time. It should also be noted that in some occupations and in some areas, more than an hour commute time is considered usual.

In P-B-303, previously cited, the commute, including time spent in waiting and walking, approximated one hour. Many residents of San Francisco and Oakland commute between these cities by public transportation. In its decision the Board stated:

"In view of the commuting habits of the community in which the claimant resided, the commuting time and the distance to work were not excessive or unreasonable. Under these facts . . . it is our opinion that the claimant failed to apply for suitable work without good cause . . . ."

In determining whether the time required to commute to the job would be excessive, the interviewer should consider actual driving time, as well as:

  • Time spent delivering children to child care providers.
  • The time spent in traffic on heavily congested routes.

Where public transportation is used, the time spent:

  • Getting to and from public transportation.
  • The unavoidable waiting time between transfers.
  • The time where the public transportation causes the claimant to arrive prior to the time the employer opens the place of business.

Since a split shift normally doubles the traveling time per day, distance or travel time to work that would be reasonable for a single shift may be unreasonable for a split shift. In P-B-220 a telephone operator refused several offers of work by her former employer because she would have to work a split shift; and because of the distance to the work, she would be away from home from early morning until late in the evening. Two of the offers were for work at the employer’s Beverly Hills branch and one for the downtown Los Angeles branch. At the time of the offers, the claimant lived in Beverly Hills. In its decision, the Board stated:

"The offer made to the claimant . . . to work as a telephone operator in her home community, involving a travel time of thirty minutes or less was an offer of suitable work which the claimant had no good cause for refusing . . . . However, the offer . . . (to work in downtown Los Angeles) involved a travel time from the claimant’s residence to work of one hour. Considering the fact that such work would be on a split shift and the likelihood of two round trips to and from work daily, it is our opinion that the offered work was not suitable. We hold that the claimant had good cause for refusing this offer and is not subject to disqualification."

D. Distance

Determinations involving a refusal of work or referral because of the distance to work, almost invariably involves a consideration of what is a "reasonable distance." In most cases, this will be established by determining what is the customary distance traveled to work by other people in the same locality and in the same occupation.

The Board has consistently refrained from establishing arbitrary standards for the distance a claimant must be willing to travel to prospective employment. However, the Board has also consistently maintained that a claimant does not have good cause for refusing otherwise suitable employment when the distance is within the customary commute pattern of the community.

The customary distance traveled to work can vary greatly according to occupation. In some occupations, such as construction and entertainment, workers often are required to travel extensive distances in order to obtain work. In such occupations, claimants cannot successfully contend that the distance is unreasonable unless they can show compelling reasons for deviating from the customary practice in their occupation.

There may be circumstances under which the claimant may be required to deviate from the customary patterns, such as a loss of private transportation or health considerations. However, where the claimant’s reason for deviating from the customary travel distance for other workers in the occupation and community is not compelling, he or she will not have good cause for refusal on that basis.

On the other hand, factors such as poor prospects for work, or extended unemployment, may be so significant that the claimant is expected to exceed what is considered the customary travel distance for most workers in the individual’s occupation.

Some claimants, such as migratory workers or workers in transit, may not have a permanent fixed residence. The customary commute distance for these individuals is determined by the locality in which the worker is registering for work.

When a claimant changes his residence from one locality to another, he or she must conform to the customary commuting patterns for the occupation in the new community. The past pattern of commuting, established by his or her prior residence, is immaterial.

E. Cost

The cost of commuting rarely affords a basis for determining that a refusal of suitable work or referral was with good cause. However, when the cost in relation to other factors is excessive, it may constitute good cause for refusal.

For example, a claimant refused referral to suitable work at minimum wage. The employment was located ten miles from her home. The claimant relied on public transportation which only went within two miles of the prospective work. The claimant was willing to take a taxi from the public transportation to the job, but the offered position was a split shift. Since a split shift was involved, it would have been necessary to make two round trips a day to work. The cost of the public transportation and the taxi combined for two trips per day would have equaled more than one-half of the claimants gross pay. In view of the cost of transportation in relation to the conditions, good cause would be established for the refusal.