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Can You Get Unemployment Benefits if You Resign for Medical Reasons?

People who leave their jobs by choice are generally disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. But there are several exceptions that would allow a worker to resign and still get benefits. For example:

  • If you resigned because a physical or mental disability made it difficult or impossible to perform the work, you may be eligible for benefits.
  • If you resigned because of illness or injury, you may be eligible for benefits if you meet certain conditions.

This article explains the steps workers can take to get unemployment benefits when a medical condition makes it necessary to leave their job.

To Get Unemployment Benefits, a Worker Must Be Both “Eligible” and “Non-disqualified”

How do I know if I’m eligible?

To be eligible, you must:

  • Have worked at least 20 weeks (earning at least $167 per week) during the base year (roughly the past 18 months), or
  • Earned at least $8,300 during the base year.

You must also be:

  • Able to work (even if unable to work in the previous job, you must still be able to perform some work);
  • Available for work; and
  • Actively seeking work (making at least three job contacts per week).

I'm eligible. What is the next step?

If you are found to be eligible, the New Jersey Department of Labor will review the reasons you left your job. Then they will determine whether you should be disqualified. The disqualification could be for as little as four weeks or could be a complete disqualification. Complete disqualifications remain in effect until you find a new job and meet the eligibility requirements in your new job.

In their evaluation of the circumstances, the Department will place you into one of three categories:

  • The job itself caused the worker’s disability. If you leave work because of a disability caused by the work itself, you will eligible for unemployment benefits if:
  • You can prove that your employer did not have any other work that you could have performed within the limits of your disability; and
  • You provide medical documentation that shows that you did (or still do) suffer from a health condition caused by the job.
  • The job aggravated (but did not cause) the worker’s disability. If you leave work because a medical condition was aggravated by the job, you will be eligible for unemployment benefits if:
  • You can prove that your employer did not have any other work that you could have performed within the limits of your disability; and
  • You provide medical documentation that shows that you did (or still do) suffer from a health condition that was made worse by the job.
  • The job did not cause or aggravate the worker’s disability. If you can no longer perform your job because of a disability that is neither caused nor worsened by the job, you will generally not qualify for unemployment benefits. If there is no connection between the job and your condition, it will be as if you left work voluntarily without “good cause” for leaving. A worker in this situation will not get any unemployment benefits, but may be able to get Temporary Disability Insurance. Note: If you did not quit, but were terminated for missing too much work (due to your illness or disability), and you made reasonable efforts to keep your job—such as calling your employer with regular updates about your condition or requesting a leave of absence—you should qualify for benefits. In all situations, you will need to provide medical documentation of your medical condition(s).

Preparing to Leave Work With “Medical Good Cause”

Communicate with your employer

If you have a health condition that was caused or aggravated by the work and you are having a hard time performing your job, let your employer know. If special accommodations, such as changing your shift or restricting lifting or standing, would enable you to keep working, ask your employer for those accommodations. You should provide your employer with a doctor’s note explaining that you need a certain accommodation due to your disability. You don’t have to give extensive medical records to your employer, but you should be prepared to offer a brief doctor’s note explaining the need for an accommodation. The employer does not have to grant your request for a “reasonable accommodation” (a term from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act) if doing so will be a significant burden. But your employer must at least discuss with you the possibility of one or more reasonable accommodations. More information on disability-specific job accommodations can be found on the Job Accommodation Network website.

If you are not given an accommodation, ask your employer if there are any other positions available that you could do, given the limits of your disability.  In some cases, it may seem obvious that there is no other suitable work available, but it’s a good idea to make the request anyway. If you leave work due to a medical condition and want to receive unemployment benefits, you will need to prove that there was no other work you could have performed there.

Communicate with your doctor

You are in the best position to know whether or not you are able to work. However,  for the purposes of unemployment or Temporary Disability Insurance, only a medical professional can certify that you are unable to work. For this reason, it is important to communicate with your doctor and to discuss with him or her your ability to work. If you and your doctor determine that you are no longer able to work because of a disability caused or aggravated by the job, ask your doctor to write a note explaining how your job caused or aggravated your medical condition. In the note, your doctor should also recommend that you leave the job.

What if I can't get a letter from my doctor?

A medical professional’s note explaining that you need to leave work for medical reasons is best. If you can't get a note, gather as much medical documentation as possible to support your case.  The documentation should show a connection between your medical condition and your work. For example, if you suffer from a chronic back condition that is aggravated by heavy lifting on the job, you should get medical documentation that shows your condition is worsened when you lift heavy objects or put significant pressure on your back. Medical documentation dated shortly before your resignation is ideal.

If you are not able to get a doctor’s note before you resign, try to get a note as soon after your resignation as possible. Even if you see your doctor after you leave work, the doctor may still be able to write a note based on previous documentation and his/her assessment stating that you had to leave work due to a medical condition. Finally, be aware that all unemployment determinations are fact-specific. Even if you are not able to get the ideal medical documentation, you might still qualify for benefits if the facts support your case. These tips simply aim to make the process easier.​

12/11/2015