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Jobs and Employment
Voluntary Quit

New Jersey’s unemployment law says that a worker is disqualified from benefits if the worker “left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work.”  Most people who read this law would think a person shouldn’t be disqualified unless the person chose to leave the job.  But, the NJDOL and the courts currently interpret the language “attributable to the work” to mean that a person is disqualified unless something at work caused the person to stop working. 

If you chose to leave your job, your reasons for quitting will determine whether or not you can get unemployment benefits.  Generally, if you quit work without a good reason related to your work, you will be disqualified from unemployment benefits.  In that case, you would have to become reemployed for at least eight weeks and earn ten times your Weekly Benefit Rate to become eligible for unemployment benefits in the future.  For example, if you decide to leave work to enroll in school full time, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits again until you find new employment, work for at least eight weeks, and earn at least ten times your Weekly Benefit Rate. 

To get unemployment benefits after you quit your job, you must show that you left for “good cause attributable to the work.” When there is more than one reason for leaving work, you will not be disqualified for voluntarily leaving work without good cause as long as one of the reasons can be considered “good cause attributable to the work.”

“Good cause attributable to the work” means a reason directly related to your job, a reason that was so compelling that any reasonable person would have made the same decision to leave.  The unemployment office will look at each case separately because every work situation and worker is different.  It will expect you to have acted reasonably to try and keep your job, but not to put up with unreasonable working conditions. You will have to tell the NJDOL about your work situation and convince the person considering your case that you acted reasonably in leaving your job. 

Moreover, if you quit for a good, work-related reason, it is important to show that you tried to work out the problem before you quit. If you quit because of harassment, did you first complain to a supervisor to try and fix the problem? If your working conditions were unsafe, did you let management know so they could try to correct the situation? If you didn’t try to work out the problem, can you show that it would have been impossible to work it out?

The sections below describe some common situations in which people leave their jobs

Personal reasons

In some cases, a worker may leave for good reasons, but those reasons may not be directly related to the job. The NJDOL considers some reasons not directly work-related to be “personal reasons” and subject to a disqualification from benefits for voluntarily leaving the job.  If you left work for what the NJDOL calls “personal” reasons, you will likely be disqualified from receiving benefits.  The NJDOL usually considers the following reasons to be personal:

  1. Leaving work to start your own business
  2. Leaving work to follow a family member who is moving
  3. Leaving work because you have no child care
  4. Leaving work because you don’t have transportation to work
  5. Leaving work to go back to school
  6. Leaving work because you lost your housing
  7. Leaving work because you were incarcerated

Leaving Your Job to Take a Better Job

Sometimes, a person resigns from one job to take a better job, but then the second job doesn’t work out and they are separated from the second job before they have worked enough or earned enough to establish a new unemployment claim.  In that situation, a person will be eligible to receive unemployment benefits only if:

  1. They started (or were supposed to start) the second job within seven days of leaving the first job*; AND

  2. The worker made (or was supposed to make) at least as much money in the second job as the first and worked (or was supposed to work) at least as many hours in the second job as the first. 

*NOTE: If the worker tells the first employer that he intends to resign on a specific date and the first employer then fires him before that date, the seven-day period begins on the worker’s planned/specified last day of work.

Unsafe working conditions

Conditions that are unsafe or unhealthy can be considered a good, work-related reason to quit your job.  Employers are required to provide a place of employment that is reasonably safe and healthy.   If your working conditions were unsafe or unhealthy, you made efforts to improve the conditions (for example, by informing your supervisor), and the situation did not get any better, you may be eligible for benefits if you leave the job.  Remember, however, that the NJDOL will always examine your actions to see if they were objectively reasonable.  If you left your job because you felt the conditions were unhealthy or unsafe, you must be prepared to show that:

  1. Any reasonable person would agree that the conditions were unsafe or unhealthy; and
  2. You attempted to resolve the problem by bringing it to the attention of a supervisor; and
  3. Despite your persistent, reasonable efforts, and despite waiting a reasonable amount of time for your employer to take action, your employer failed to take sufficient steps to improve the conditions at work. 

Example of a claimant who will likely NOT get benefits: Joe worked in an office that was cold and moldy. The conditions in his office made him sick. He complained to his co-worker about the conditions and brought in a heater. Months later, he decided he just couldn’t take working in that moldy office anymore and he quit. Will Joe be eligible for unemployment benefits? Probably not, because he never brought the problem to the attention of his employer, so he never gave the employer an opportunity to fix the problem. Complaining only to his coworker, who had no authority to improve the conditions, shows that Joe did not take reasonable efforts to preserve his job. A reasonable person would have notified the employer of the unhealthy conditions.



Example of a claimant who WILL likely get benefits:  Kenji worked as an electric machine operator in a building where the roof leaked, leaving pools of water on the floor.  Kenji told the manager that he thought it was unsafe to operate the electric machine while standing in water. The boss told him that his job was to operate the machine, and if he didn’t like it he could quit. Kenji had a good, work-related reason for quitting, since the conditions at his workplace were unsafe.  He should get unemployment benefits.

Leaving Work for Medical Reasons

If you left work because of an accident or illness directly related to your work, you should be able to get benefits as long as there was no other suitable work that you could have done within the limits of your disability.  You will have to present medical documentation of your injury/illness and demonstrate that your employer was unable to provide you with work to accommodate your injury/illness. 

If you left work because of a medical condition that was made worse by your job (not necessarily caused by your job), you should be able to get benefits as long as there was no other suitable work that you could have done within the limits of your disability.  You will have to present medical documentation of your injury/illness and demonstrate that your employer was unable to provide you with work to accommodate your injury/illness. 

If you were terminated because your health problems made you miss work, you should be able to get unemployment benefits as long as you can show that you took reasonable efforts to preserve your job.  In other words, if you had to miss work because of health problems but you kept your employer informed of the situation and made every effort to keep your job, you should be able to get benefits.  Reasonable efforts to preserve your job include: calling your employer regularly to keep them up-to-date on your condition and expected return date; submitting doctor’s notes to your employer; and requesting a leave of absence.  However, the length of your absence from work may impact your ability to get unemployment benefits. 

Domestic violence

If you are a victim of domestic violence and you quit work or were discharged because of circumstances related to the abuse, you may be eligible for benefits. Such circumstances may include relocating to escape your abuser, leaving work because of constant harassment at work by the abuser, and other situations. To qualify under this provision, you must show any of the following documentation:

  • A restraining order or other court order preventing the abuser from disturbing you
  • A police record documenting domestic violence
  • Documentation that the abuser was convicted of a domestic violence crime
  • Medical documentation of domestic violence
  • Certification that you are a victim from a Domestic Violence Specialist (a person certified by the New Jersey Association of Domestic Violence Professionals) or director of a domestic violence prevention agency (a county organization providing services to victims through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency)
  • Documentation from a social worker, clergy member, shelter worker, or other professional who helped you deal with the abuse

Discrimination

Various laws make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, age (over 40), disability, marital status, and sexual orientation.  If someone at work was discriminating against you, that can be a good, work-related reason for quitting. Write down any discriminatory actions or comments as well as who witnessed them. In the cases of disability and religion, the law may require the employer to take extra steps to accommodate you or to help you to do your job.  You may also file a claim with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights or take other legal steps to challenge the discriminatory treatment.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and may be good cause for quitting.  If you left work due to sexual harassment, make a list of incidents and witnesses while it’s fresh in your mind in case you are questioned about it later.  

Your employer changes the terms of your employment

If your employer significantly changed the terms of your employment (or offered you a different position), and you quit because you were unhappy with the new terms, you should be able to collect unemployment benefits if the new wages, hours, job duties, job location or other conditions of work offered were so undesirable that any reasonable person would want to leave.  If you are in this situation and apply for unemployment benefits, the NJDOL will have to decide whether or not the new work offered was “suitable.”  If the new terms were “unsuitable,” then you should receive benefits.  But if the NJDOL finds that the new terms were suitable and you were wrong in not accepting the new terms, you will be penalized by having to wait four weeks (from the date you filed your claim) before receiving any unemployment benefits. 

“Unsuitable” means any one of the following:

  • The new terms make the job unhealthy or unsafe
  • The new wages are below $8.44 per hour (the minimum wage)
  • The new wages amount to less than 80% of what you were making before (you can include the value of lost benefits in your calculation)
  • The new wages, hours, or other conditions of work offered are substantially less favorable than those prevailing for similar work in the labor market area
  • The new terms are offered to you as a result of a strike, lockout, or other labor dispute
  • The new terms require you to leave or join a union, and you don’t want to
  • The new terms violate your sincerely held religious beliefs

Example: Kai’s employer decided to close his store a half hour earlier every weekday, cutting her hours from 40 to 37½ per week. This probably is not a good, work-related reason to quit, since the change is not major. Unless there were other agreements or conditions, Kai would probably not be eligible for unemployment benefits if she quit only for this reason.

Personality conflicts

Usually, personality conflicts that don’t involve unlawful discrimination are not good cause to quit. Workers are expected to do their best to work together, but when an employee is subjected to intentional harassment, vulgar, abusive language, or threatened violence, working conditions can be so intolerable so as to be good cause to quit.  It takes a lot, though, to prove a hostile working environment.  Many situations that workers feel are hostile will not amount to hostile environments for the purposes of obtaining unemployment benefits.

Losing a “prerequisite” of employment/Losing a license required for your work

If your job required you to have a driver’s license, nursing license, or other professional license, and you lost the license, your ability to access unemployment benefits depends on how foreseeable your license and job loss were.  If your job depended on your having a particular license and it was “reasonably foreseeable” that your actions (such as driving while intoxicated) would lead to the loss/suspension of your license and thus your job, the NJDOL will consider you to have “quit” your job, even if you were fired.  In this case, you will likely be disqualified from unemployment benefits.  Similarly, if you let your license expire without taking any action to renew it, and you were fired for this, the NJDOL will label this a “quit,” and you will likely be disqualified from benefits.   However, if you took reasonable steps to preserve your license but they are not successful (for example, if you did not pass a required exam), you may still be entitled to benefits. 

Job Abandonment

The NJDOL considers a person to have voluntarily left their job if they miss work for more than five days in a row without letting the employer know the reason for the absence, unless circumstances prevented you from letting your employer know.   The courts frequently state that “it is an employee’s responsibility to do what is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed.” 

Even if you did let your employer know that you would have to miss work, the NJDOL may still say that you voluntarily quit your job if you missed work for more than five days in a row.  For example, if you couldn’t go to work because you were arrested and put in jail, most people would say that you did not leave work voluntarily.  But, the NJDOL usually considers this a “voluntary quit.”

However, not all situations in which a person missed five or more days of work will result in a disqualification: 

If you temporarily stopped working because of a personal health or medical problem that was not caused by your job, you will not be disqualified if you made “a reasonable effort” to preserve your job, but the employer fired you anyway.  In fact, depending on the circumstance, the New Jersey Family Leave Act and federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may require your employer to have held your job for you for up to 12 weeks.  The NJDOL defines “a reasonable effort” as letting the employer know the reason why you can’t work, asking for a leave of absence, or taking other steps to protect your employment.

Trailing a Spouse

If your spouse was in the Army or National Guard and was posted to a new location outside of New Jersey, you will not be disqualified for voluntarily leaving if within nine months you left your job to join your spouse at the new location.

6/4/2015
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