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Unemployment Benefits: Know Your Rights When You Leave Your Job
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Unemployment benefits offer some protection to workers when employment ends and should be fairly given, but they are not guaranteed for workers who leave their job. Employers have a financial interest in disputing (disagreeing with) your claim. The New Jersey Department of Labor examines each claim closely and may deny a claim even if the employer does not challenge it.

Good Cause Reasons for Leaving Your Job

You should carefully consider your right to unemployment benefits before you leave your job. If you are having severe health issues that prevent your return to work, keep in contact with your employer. If you simply stop communicating with your employer, you will be found to have abandoned your job, which would be considered a “voluntary quit.” This would completely disqualify you from receiving benefits. Get medical notes from your medical provider to show your health issues and ask for a leave of absence if you cannot perform the job.

If you are considering leaving for good cause related to the work, your reasons must be very strong to get benefits. Unlawful working conditions, such as sexual or religious harassment, wage violations, disability discrimination, or safety or health violations are possible examples of good cause. Simply stating that a supervisor was pushing very hard or was unkind in their supervision is difficult to prove. Before you leave your job, you should complain, preferably in writing, to your supervisor and human resources to show that you tried to resolve the issue before resigning.

If you submit a letter of resignation, put your reasons for resigning in your letter. The employer and the unemployment agency may attempt to use a letter without complaints against you. But courts have allowed benefits to workers who chose not to list reasons in their resignation letter because they didn’t want to “burn bridges” with an employer.

If your employer has substantially reduced your work hours or wages, or changed working conditions, there is a standard called “new work” that could apply. This reason for leaving your job has a four-week penalty instead of the total denial of benefits that a voluntary quit will cause.

Eligibility for unemployment benefits requires that you be able to work, but you do not have to be able to do your prior work. For example, if your prior job required extensive walking, but you can only do seated work, you may be eligible for benefits. Some people may be eligible for temporary disability benefits or unemployment at the same time, although you can receive benefits from only one program at a time. Eligibility for temporary disability requires an inability to do your prior job. However, if you can do other work that is less strenuous and you are actively searching for such work, you may be eligible for unemployment as well, and you could apply to either program. Combining weeks of temporary disability with unemployment benefits may increase the number of weeks of benefits that you can receive assistance. You can also apply for family leave benefits to assist with the birth of a child or care for a family member.

Misconduct Issues

Getting terminated from your job will often raise issues of misconduct when you apply for benefits. If you disagree with the reasons for termination, you should make appropriate complaints to your supervisor, human resources, or a union—in writing, if possible. Even if you do not want to return to the job, filing a complaint can help your unemployment claim, since the agency will ask if you did this.

If the employer offers or suggests resignation instead of termination, you need to be very careful. If you resign when it is clear that you would be terminated in the next 60 days, you may be eligible for benefits. However, if there is a question about whether you would be terminated, you will be completely denied benefits on the basis of voluntary quit. If you choose to resign, your resignation letter should state that you are resigning instead of prompt termination.

Misconduct sanctions increase by severity. “Simple misconduct,” which requires a showing of intentional action and substantial disregard of the employer’s rules, will result in an eight-week delay in benefits. “Severe misconduct,” which requires either repeat violations after a warning or more severe problems, is a complete disqualification from benefits. The employer has the burden of proving misconduct, but you should prepare your testimony carefully to show that you did not intentionally violate any rules. If the employer has put you on suspension and is investigating, you may be eligible for benefits. The test for eligibility is whether the employer is providing work—not whether a final determination has been made on termination. If the suspension appears that it will be lengthy, you may want to proceed with filing for unemployment.

Filing the Claim and Providing Interview Information to the Agency

You must file a claim in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits. You will not get back benefits to your date of termination—benefits begin only after your application date. The quickest way to file for your benefits is online.

After you file a claim, if there is any indication that a disqualification may apply to your case due to voluntary quit or misconduct, the agency will schedule an interview with a deputy. You should be notified of the reason for the interview. Often, the employer has completed an initial form that may indicate why the employer believes you should be disqualified. This may include that you were discharged for rule violations or that you abandoned the job.

The deputy interview is very important for your case. Often, the agency will have negative information from the employer. You have the right to have an attorney for the deputy interview and should seek advice from an attorney, if possible, so that you fully understand the issues involved in your case. If English is your second language, you may want to ask for an interpreter even if you can speak a fair amount of English. You want to make sure that you fully understand these important proceedings. If you require additional time to prepare for the interview, you may request a postponement by providing advance notice. If you are denied benefits, you will need to immediately appeal, but the process will take four to six weeks.

At the beginning of the interview, you may request copies of any documents that the employer has provided and ask that the significant points be read to you before starting. The agency will then take your testimony under oath. The best way to present your case is usually through your testimony and your documents. You may request that statements be taken from your witnesses who have firsthand knowledge of the case. You or your representative will have the opportunity to question your own witness, present documents, provide questions to ask the employer, and provide a closing statement or summary.

Most often, the agency will interview you separately from your employer. If the employer responds, the deputy will set up a rebuttal call with you where you can respond to the employer’s statements. In some cases, the deputy will have the claimant and the employer on the line at the same time.

LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, may be able to give you advice and assistance to help you enforce your rights at the earliest stages of the unemployment benefits process. Early preparation can help you win your claim in a timely manner. You may apply for help online or call 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).​

1/8/2018