April 19, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Cafeteria Plan Deductions Should Not Be Included in Unemployment Compensation Calculations

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Meyer v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

Lizabeth A. Meyer (Claimant) received unemployment compensation benefits in the amount of $500 per week, effective March 11, 2012, and continuing until May 19, 2012, when she obtained full-time employment. During the majority of that period, she worked part-time at Coach, and for the last two weeks she worked full-time at Sutrak. A deputy for the Division of Unemployment Insurance conducted an audit of Claimant’s file and determined that she had been overpaid unemployment compensation benefits in the amount of $1,712 for the period from March 18, 2012, through May 19, 2012. The deputy found that claimant had underreported her hours and earnings for certain weeks during that period, and assessed a monetary penalty of $1,112.80 against her.

Claimant appealed the deputy’s determination and an evidentiary hearing was held, at which Claimant conceded that the hours reported on her paystubs, rather than those she reported online, accurately reflected the hours she worked. However, she asserted that she was only required to report her taxable earnings, not her gross earnings. The Division’s hearing officer accepted Claimant’s concessions about the hours worked but held that she was required to report her gross earnings. The hearing officer found that because Claimant knowingly misrepresented her gross earnings, she was overpaid $1,890.64 in unemployment compensation, and assessed a monetary penalty of $1,228.91. Claimant appealed to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office, and the Panel affirmed. Claimant then appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Claimant contended the Panel erred in determining she was required to report her gross earnings rather than her taxable earnings, arguing she was not required to report any contributions to her 26 U.S.C. § 125 cafeteria plan. The court of appeals agreed. The court found that the Division required Claimant to report her gross earnings, but that was in contravention of the definition of “wages” in C.R.S. § 8-70-142. The court held the Division erred in requiring Claimant to report her gross wages without deducting contributions to her § 125 cafeteria plan.

Claimant next contended that the Panel erred in upholding the hearing officer’s determination that she knowingly failed to report her earnings accurately, and that both the Panel and hearing officer erred in determining she had received an overpayment and imposing a monetary penalty. The court of appeals agreed in part. The court found that, for the period from May 6 through May 21, 2012, Claimant was not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits and therefore was overpaid $1,000 for this period. The court found the Division did not err in imposing the 65% penalty for this period, in the amount of $650. However, for the period for which Claimant worked for Coach, she was eligible for benefits. Because the Division calculated Claimant’s overpayment based on her gross earnings rather than her taxable wages, the Division erred in its calculations. The court of appeals analyzed Claimant’s taxable wages and found an overpayment of $76 for the period in which she worked for Coach. The 65% penalty for this amount is $49.40, for a total of $125.40 owed for the period in which Claimant worked for Coach.

The court of appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with directions for the Panel to issue a new order regarding the $76 overpayment.

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