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“Suitability of New Work” in Unemployment Claims

Why is the “suitability of new work” an important issue in unemployment claims?

Knowing whether or not your unemployment case involves a “suitability of new work” issue is important because it could prevent you from being improperly disqualified from benefits. In analyzing cases where someone voluntarily leaves their job, the New Jersey Department of Labor often misses the issue of “suitability of new work” and, instead, assesses only the issue of “voluntarily leaving work without good cause attributable to the work.” “Voluntary quit” cases can result in complete disqualifications from benefits, whereas “suitability of new work” cases carry—at worst—only a four-week disqualification from benefits. So if your case is analyzed as a “voluntary quit” case when it should be analyzed as a “suitability of new work” case, you may be completely disqualified from benefits when you really should not be disqualified at all or, at worst, only for four weeks. For this reason, it is important to know whether your case is a “suitability of new work” case.

How do I know whether my case involves “suitability of new work”?

Suitability of new work issues can arise when:

  • An offer of work is made to an unemployed person by an employer with whom he or she has never worked;
  • An offer of reemployment is made by a former employer, following an indefinite layoff with no recall date; or
  • An offer of work is made by a present employer with different duties, terms, or conditions than those agreed to at the time of hire.

If your employer significantly changes the terms of your employment (for example, your hours, shift, job duties, job location, salary, benefits, work environment, or health and safety conditions) from the initial terms of hire, that is considered an offer of “new work.” In order for a pay change to constitute an offer of “new work” under the law, the salary reduction must be at least a 20% reduction.  Otherwise, the salary reduction is considered suitable. 

If it is impractical for you to accept the terms of the new offer of work, then you may be able to leave the job and still collect unemployment benefits. If the terms of the new offer of work were suitable and you left the job anyway, then you will be disqualified for four weeks.

How will the Department of Labor determine whether an offer of work was suitable?

In determining whether an offer of new work was suitable, the New Jersey Department of Labor will consider the claimant’s individual circumstances. Common considerations include the claimant’s child care obligations, access to transportation to and from work, household dynamics, physical limitations, job experience, and religious affiliation/moral convictions. If the terms of the new offer of work would place a substantial burden on the claimant, the new offer of work would be unsuitable. 

How are “suitability of new work” cases different from “voluntary quit” cases?

In a “voluntary quit” case, you must show that you left work “with good cause attributable to the work” to access unemployment benefits. Demonstrating “good cause” for voluntarily leaving work may be difficult. You must prove that the working conditions were so bad, harmful, or unhealthy that any reasonable person would leave the job. Personal reasons for leaving work (caring for a sick relative, child care obligations, transportation problems) do not constitute “good cause” and will result in complete disqualifications from benefits. 

In cases involving offers of new work, on the other hand, personal reasons for not accepting an offer of new work are taken into account.  If you declined an offer of new work because of personal circumstances, you may still get unemployment benefits.  But if you left your job (without the employer having made any substantial changes to the terms of hire) because of personal circumstances, you may be altogether disqualified for leaving the job voluntarily.  So it is possible that you could win your case with a suitability of work argument but would lose the exact same case with a voluntary quit argument.
Here’s an example of how this works:

Bill works as a cashier in a fast food establishment. He is a single father, and when he is at work, his mother watches his children. His mother does not have a valid driver’s license and cannot pick up his children from school. 

Bill must pick up his children and bring them home before he goes to work.

Bill’s employer says to him “we no longer need you at this location, but we want you to work in a different franchise 30 minutes away.” Although it’s not that far away and Bill owns his own car, Bill cannot go to this new location because he would be unable to pick up his children from school. He cannot afford to hire someone to pick them up and there is no bus for them to take home. Bill rejects the offer and is now jobless.

Bill applies for unemployment and explains that he couldn’t go to the new restaurant location because he had to pick up his kids from school.  The claims examiner mistakenly disqualifies him from benefits because he did not have “good cause” for voluntarily leaving the job.

In this situation, if Bill argues, in his appeal, that the new location was a significant change to the terms of his employment, and that it was unsuitable to him because he could no longer pick up his children from school, then the case becomes a “suitability of new work” matter, and Bill’s personal circumstances must be taken into account. The question is no longer “Does picking up your children constitute good cause?” Instead, the question becomes, “Was the new offer of employment suitable for Bill?”  Bill should be eligible for benefits in this situation. 

How can I ensure that the NJDOL will analyze my case as a “suitability of new work” case?

Since “new work” cases are very similar to “voluntary quit” cases, the Department of Labor sometimes mistakenly assesses “new work” cases as “voluntary quit” matters. If you believe your case involves a suitability of new work issue, you should ask the claims examiner (in your fact-finding interview) to analyze that issue. If the examiner does not analyze the issue, you must raise the issue on appeal.

If the issue of “suitability of new work” (also referred to as “refusal of new work”) is not listed on your Appeal Tribunal hearing notice, write to the appeals examiner before the hearing and ask that the issue  be added to the hearing notice. If you are not able to do that, ask the appeals examiner to assess the issue as soon as the hearing begins.  Get it “on the record” that you feel this is a “suitability of new work” case.  If the Appeal Tribunal does not properly assess the issue, you may address it in your written appeal to the Board of Review.​​​

3/27/2020