Unemployment Compensation Manual

:: Voluntary Quits ::

CAVEAT: SPECIFIC LAWS AND REGULATIONS VARY WIDELY FROM STATE TO STATE. THESE ARE ONLY GENERAL REMARKS. UNEMPLOYMENT TAX ADVISORY CORPORATION DOES NOT RECOMMEND NOR ADVISE ANY MATERIAL CONDUCT ON THE BASIS OF THESE REMARKS. FOR ADVICE RELATING TO YOUR SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES, CALL UTA AT 1 800 998 8822.
 

INTRODUCTION

Unemployment Compensation is intended to help working people who are temporarily unemployed due to work-related circumstances which are beyond their control.

When a person voluntarily quits his employment, presumably, that circumstance is within his control.

For this reason, generally, a worker who quits voluntarily is not eligible to receive unemployment compensation.

Of course, the Devil is always in the details. There are many many circumstances under which a person may quit their employment with good cause and collect. For example, if a worker is subject to sexual harassment, if the paychecks consistently bounce or are not forthcoming, if new conditions of employment become manifestly unsafe, even if their spouse is transferred far away, or etc. So the rule is simple, but the exceptions are many. This section will therefore predominantly deal with exceptions.

The first question to resolve is whether the quit was truly voluntary. This sounds simple, but many times the issue becomes clouded by threats or other demands on the part of the employer. For example, if an employer were to deliver this ultimatum: "Quit or get fired!", and the worker handed in a resignation letter, then is that quit truly voluntary? A quit is voluntary if it is initiated by the worker and is not compelled by the employer. In this case, compulsion is certainly furnished by the employer's peremptory threat. The mere form of a written resignation does not produce a truly voluntary quit. Again: A resignation letter and a voluntary quit are two different animals.

Once the question whether the quit was voluntary has been decided, then the issue becomes whether the quit was for good cause. Good cause may be defined as real, substantial and reasonable circumstances which would cause the average person to quit his employment. Good cause includes good faith. Purely subjective or personal reasons, or oversensitive reactions to working conditions or circumstances, should not be regarded as good cause. [see stress below]

Sexual harassment, of course, is an exception to the above. Sexual harassment is usually defined in purely subjective and often oversensitive terms, and yet may provide good cause. In a notorious case, a major brewing company lost a sexual harassment suit for twenty three million dollars ($23,000,000.00) when a worker overheard another worker repeating to a third worker a joke which had appeared the night before on an episode of Seinfeld. How the content of prime time television comedy becomes the responsibility of a brewer confounds thoughtful people everywhere.

Take a better example: What if a comptroller was instructed to cook the books, but, rather than do something illegal, he quit? In this case, his compulsion may be the law. So compulsion does not have to be the direct action of the employer. It can be merely a circumstance related to the actions of the employer.

Take a third example: What if a worker were instructed by his union to leave the job, perhaps because there was a labor dispute at another plant entirely? Here the compulsion did not come from the employer, and yet, depending upon the state, the quit may not be regarded as voluntary on the part of the employee.

The question of whether the worker left for good cause depends upon his reason for leaving the job, not upon the fact that the quit was voluntary.

Generally, a worker will not have good cause for leaving work until he has reasonably exhausted other opportunities for resolving his employment problems, including available grievance procedures, or discussing the problems with supervisors or management. If he quits without any effort to resolve problems with the employer, this does not reflect a genuine desire to remain employed.

Generally, once a worker has accepted work, knowing the terms and conditions, he cannot thereafter voluntarily quit the work and allege that the terms and conditions were good cause for leaving.

Once a quit is determined to be voluntary, it is the responsibility of the worker to show that he had good cause for leaving.
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FORCED RESIGNATION

If a resignation is coerced by the employer, the separation is a discharge rather than a voluntary quit.

Dissatisfaction:
The separation must in fact, have been expressly forced by the employer. A resignation because of dissatisfaction with the working conditions will not invoke this rule. The employee who says: "I just can't take it here anymore." has not been forced to quit.
Illegal Activities:
An employee who quits because he is asked to commit illegal acts has been forced to quit. So if a store sells cigarettes without the tax stamp on them, and a clerk quits rather than sell them, that clerk should collect.
Immoral Activities:
An employee who quits because the environment poses a hazard to morals has been forced to quit. So if a restaurant changes to a nudie bar, a waitress may quit and collect.
Job Conditions:
Job conditions may provide good cause if those conditions have changed. If the worker agreed to take the job understanding those conditions, then this exception may not apply. The employer who says: "I know how to make him quit!", and then proceeds to make job conditions intolerable, may force a quit.
Resignation in Lieu of Discharge:
When a worker is allowed to resign in lieu of a definite decision by his employer to discharge him, the separation will generally be treated as a discharge. It must be shown that the employer definitely intended to discharge the worker. The employer’s actions must be explicit, and must present the worker with no reasonable alternative but to quit. The employer who says: "Quit or get fired." has effectively discharged the employee. No letter of resignation at this point can change the fundamental facts.
Resignation in Anticipation of Discharge:
A reprimand, a poor work review, an impending layoff, an offer of early retirement, even a recommendation for discharge from a supervisor, are not a forced resignation. The worker who says: "I quit because I thought they were about to fire me." has not established a forced resignation.
Fixed Term Employment:
When a worker accepts employment for a fixed term, his separation at the end of that term will generally be treated as a discharge. The acceptance of term employment does not affect the involuntary nature of the separation at the end of the term. So the contractor cannot complain: "But my masons knew the job was only for six months." The masons have been discharged for lack of work.
Necessity:
A worker may voluntarily quit and yet collect unemployment when real, reasonable, pressing circumstance compels him to, even when those circumstances do not directly stem from the employer's actions. For an example, see the "War Stor" immediately below.
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CONSTRUCTIVE QUIT

A worker may constructively quit his job if he does not act as though he still has a job, even though he has not expressly quit. In colloquial English, we would say that he "as good as quit". The classic example is the "no-call, no-show". Someone who has a job shows up, or at least calls in. Someone who quits does not show up or call. If the worker does not show and does not call, then his actions say he has quit. These actions are imputed the force of words.

Elements:
The two important elements which define a constructive quit are:
  1. The worker voluntarily committed some act or omitted some act which made it impossible for the employer to retain him as an employee, and
  2. The worker knew or should have known that this act or omission would be tantamount to resignation.
Limitations:
A constructive quit only applies in limited situations. It does not apply where the employer has decided to discharge a worker for specific acts which the employer considers to be misconduct. A worker who has been fired is not expected to show nor to call. This seems perfectly obvious, but is not. Many times, employment ends in counter claims of either "They fired me" versus "No we didn't" or "He quit" versus "No I didn't".

State Specifics:
Also, remember that the states are somewhat split on the issue of constructive quit. Not all recognize it as a species of voluntary quit, nor do all define it in the same way. Some states would say that, after all, the plain English meaning of "voluntary quit" is that the worker meant to quit. Just because the consequences of his act could be foreseen does not mean that the consequences were intended. In these states, the issue is intent. A worker does not have to say "I quit", word for word, to quit. But he must be shown to have intended to quit. And any proceeding where intent must be proven is apt to unsatisfactory outcomes.

The good news is that the same actions which may have been construed to make a voluntary quit in those states which recognize it will often be construed to be misconduct in other states which do not. So a truck driver who loses his driver's license by drinking and driving, so that the trucking company is forced to fire him, may have constructively quit in one state, but may be committing misconduct in one state.

Incarceration:
Incarceration is a good example of a constructive quit. When incarcerated for crime, the worker has, by his own actions, made himself unavailable for work, thus forcing a separation between himself and his employment. However, in some states this would be called misconduct because he failed to appear for work. Astonishingly, in New Jersey, it may be possible for him to collect even while in jail. The justification for this baffles ordinary human understanding.
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Storming Out:
It frequently happens that a worker will storm off the premises, volleying objurgations, the burden of which is "take this job and shove it", only to calm down later at home (perhaps reminded by his wife that he has little mouths to feed) and come back next day to work. This sort of behavior is sometimes a constructive quit. There was no resignation letter. There was no explicit "I quit!". But it was as good as a quit. Again, actions can speak louder than words.

However, the reader is cautioned that even this type of case can be very thorny. The employer might better concentrate on the insubordination that took place during the storming out, rather than maintaining that storming out was a quit. After all, this worker's actions spoke one way the afternoon before, then spoke as forcefully the other way the next morning.

No Show:
It occasionally happens that a worker takes several unexpected weeks off. For instance, a worker may ask for two weeks leave to attend to personal business. Four weeks later, the worker has neither returned nor called, and so the employer replaces him. At the end of six weeks, he shows up. This may be a constructive quit.
Threatening to Quit:
Sometimes, a worker threatens to quit only to find that, much to his surprise, his threats were taken seriously. Now the worker will claim that he was discharged, while the employer claims that this was a constructive quit. Again, resolution can be difficult. Especially if the threats were repeated: If his earlier threats were not taken to be an actual quit, how can the worker be expected to assume his recent threats will be?
Job Abandonment:
The commonest and most easily established constructive quit happens when a worker simply does not show up for work, without any contact or notice. This is job abandonment.

The worker must have gone AWOL for a reasonable period of time, in order to distinguish this disappearance from some extraordinary circumstance or ordinary oversight. A reasonable period of time depends upon the circumstances of each case, but as a rule of thumb, after three days without any notice, the burden is on the employee to rebut the presumption that he has abandoned his job. The time limit should be clearly stated in an employee manual.

Under particular circumstances, a worker may later establish that his absence without notice was not a job abandonment. The extreme example might be a dire accident followed by unconsciousness.

Loss of License or Certification:
If a worker fails to get, to renew, or to maintain a license or certification which is a job requirement, so that he becomes unemployable in his position, then that may be regarded as a constructive quit. A nurse, a teacher, a truck driver, and many others all must maintain certain licenses to engage in their professions. If the licenses lapse, then they make themselves unavailable for work. This is a common occurence.

Two important limitations to this should be noted:

  1. If the worker loses or does not obtain this license as a result of willful misconduct, then the discharge is for misconduct. This is the most common cause for loss of a driver's license. An example might be a truck driver who lost his license for drunk driving.
  2. Note that in some states, losing the license while driving the company truck on company time might be misconduct while losing that same license in his own vehicle on his own time might be either a constructive quit or a payable unemployment claim. In other states, losing the license even off the job would be misconduct.
Failure to Train:
Many jobs require study or training. It may be initial training, periodic training, or continuous training. If an employee in one of these positions fails to enroll, complete, or continue required training, that may be construed to be a constructive quit. An example might be an apprentice welder, hired on condition that he complete his certification at night school, who then drops out of class.

If an employer hires a worker knowing full well that the worker does not yet have that license, and then the worker fails to obtain the license because he is unable to pass the test, then that worker is apt to be eligible for benefits. Failing a test through inability is thus distinct from failing to take a test through neglect.

Notice of Resignation:
If a worker submits a resignation effective in the future, in some states, the employer may accept the resignation at once, and it may be considered a constructive quit. In other words, once the resignation has been tendered, it may be accepted at the employer's convenience.

Beware: In other states, this will never work. There, the employer who early accepts a resignation has discharged the worker. Frequently, he will qualify for benefits at least until the effective date of his resignation.

Withdrawn Resignation:
If a worker has submitted an express, voluntary resignation, the employer may genrally accept and act upon that resignation regardless of the worker’s efforts to withdraw or rescind it.
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ANTICIPATING A DISCHARGE

Generally, a worker has quit voluntarily if he prematurely leaves work because he expects to be discharged or because he wrongly assumes that he has been discharged, but he has not yet received official notice of discharge from the employer.

Finality:
Not infrequently, a worker may leave his employment before he knows that his discharge is official and final. For example, the foreman may have said "I am going to the supervisor now and tell him to can you." Then the worker leaves. He may well be disqualified because he did not wait for the process to be finalized.
Authority:
On the other hand, if, based upon what is customary at his work place, it was reasonable for the worker to rely upon the apparent authority of the person who claimed that he was discharging him, then it is also reasonable for the worker to assume that he had actually been discharged. The employer may later claim that the person did not have authority to discharge. However, the employer will be bound by the actions of his representative. The worker’s leaving will be treated as a discharge.
Anticipating Layoff:
If a definite layoff notice had been given, a worker may generally leave the job in anticipation of discharge if this is necessary in order for him to develop or to accept opportunities for new work. An example might be when a worker who has been notified of a layoff accepts a position elsewhere, leaves, and then the position does not materialize, so that he has to apply for unemployment. This may not be the same as quitting to accept another job when there is no announced layoff impending.
Retirement:
Many times when there is a "reduction in force", workers may be given the option of early retirement. Accepting voluntary retirement, as opposed to mandatory retirement, is generally treated as a voluntary quit. A forced retirement, however, perhaps pursuant to a maximum age policy, or to a reduction in force, or to a union agreement, is generally not a voluntary quit.
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REASONABLE EFFORTS TO RETAIN EMPLOYMENT

In order to show good cause, a worker must show that he made a reasonable effort to preserve his employment. Much depends upon what sorts of opportunities the employer regularly makes available to resolve grievances. But, even if there is no set grievance procedure, something should have been attempted.

For example, a worker who says "I quit because I was getting harassed and they wouldn't do anything about it." is in a much stronger position that one who can only say "I quit as soon as I got harassed."

What Is Reasonable:
The worker must make a reasonable effort. A reasonable effort may include available grievance procedures, discussing problems with supervisors, using safety equipment, or any other reasonable strategies, depending upon circumstances. The key notion is that simply leaving work without any effort does not demonstrate a genuine desire to keep the job.
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LEAVING PART-TIME OR TEMPORARY EMPLOYMENT

Voluntarily leaving any work, including part-time and temporary work, is disqualifying unless there is good cause.

Unemployment Compensation laws favor work over compensation. Unless part-time or temporary work significantly impairs a worker’s search for full-time employment, failing to continue in or to accept part-time or temporary work may well be disqualifying.

Other Offers:
A worker may leave part-time work to accept an offer of full-time work without losing benefits if:
  1. The worker has a definite offer of full-time work before he leaves the part-time work. (Leaving simply to search for other work will not provide an exception). But the offer of new work failed to materialize due to no fault of the worker.
  2. The worker can show that there is no reasonable full-time job market for his skill in the area where he is working part-time, and he moves to a better job market.
Reduced Hours:
In some instances, a worker may be able to show that his hours were reduced to such an extent and the expense of continuing to work was such that continuing the work cost more than it was worth.
On-Call Work:
On-call workers who refuse job assignments and fail to show up for assignments may demonstrate job abandonment. These issues frequently arise when the employer is a temporary agency. In addition, the temp worker who does not contact the agency for a new assignment may be disqualifed as a species of voluntary quit. See below.
Intermittent Work:
Workers employed on an intermittent basis by labor contractors such as temporary staffing agencies or construction firms can be qualified for benefits when they are between job assignments, There are three main exceptions to this:
  1. A worker may not be qualified if he quits a job assignment
  2. A worker may not be qualified if he refuses a suitable offer of re-assignment.
  3. A worker may not be qualified if he cannot demonstrate that he is looking for work, such as by applying for a new assignment.
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LEAVE OF ABSENCE

A leave of absence, whether requested by the worker or mutually agreed upon for the benefit of the worker, amounts to a voluntary quit without good cause for the duration of the leave. So the worker may not qualify for unemployment benefits while on leave.

Employment in the Interim:
The disqualification will last for the duration of the leave regardless of any intervening employment. So a worker who took eight weeks leave to work another job which laid him off after four weeks may not qualify for benefits for the remaining four weeks.
Assured Reinstatement:
If there is no guarantee that the worker will be reinstated when his leave expires, then this is not a true "leave of absence". In this case, the worker may have to re qualify by satisfying new work requirements according to his state's statutes. So if a worker says: "I need three months off," and the employer responds: "I can't guarantee to hold a job for you," and, at the end of the period, there is no job for him, he will have quit, and will have to work somewhere else and re qualify before he can collect.
Failure to Return:
If the worker does not return at the end of his leave, he may have to re qualify by satisfying new work requirements according to his state's statutes. So if a worker takes two months off for a three week leave, he has quit.
Failure to Reinstate:
If the employer gave some assurance of reinstatement but at the end of the leave did not reinstate the worker, then the separation is a discharge effective at that time. So if a worker returns after three weeks leave only to find that his job is gone, then he has been discharged on that day when his leave ended. He cannot collect unemployment for the weeks he was on leave, but only from his return date.
Employer Imposed Leave:
An unpaid leave of absence imposed on the worker for the benefit of the employer is a discharge for the period of the leave. So if a company shuts down six weeks to retool the plant, the workers are discharged for six weeks. They may not have to hold themselves available for nor seek work, because they do have reasonable assurance of employment at the end of the period. But they can very likely collect benefits for the period.

This is different from a paid vacation, such as a Christmas shut-down.

Reinstatement Refused:
If the worker refuses reinstatement at the end of the leave period, his separation is a refusal of suitable work. So if all workers are on leave for the holidays and one refuses to return after the holidays, then he has quit.
Unauthorized Leave:
If the worker's request for a leave of absence is denied, and then the worker takes the requested leave anyway, then this may be misconduct, rather than a voluntary quit.
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CHANGE OF JOB CONDITIONS

When an employer unilaterally changes the job from the original terms of hire, the employer thereby terminates the existing employment, and the change constitutes an offer of new work. If the worker refuses the new work, this is not a voluntary quit. It is refusing an offer of work. The question then becomes whether this was an offer of suitable work.

An actual example from real life would be the employer we encountered who, dissatisfied with his accountant's work, transferred him to the loading dock to make him quit. He quit, of course. The employer was surprised to find that the accountant could collect. he could collect because this was not a voluntary quit, but a refusal of unsuitable work.

Substantial Changes:
The change in terms and conditions must be substantial. Directing an accountant who normally does payroll to instead do taxes may not be so substantial a change as directing him to report to the loading dock.
Imposed by Employer:
The changes must be imposed exclusively by the employer. If the truck driver said "I would rather drive a forklift", then all bets are off.
Worker Unwilling:
If the worker agrees to the changes, these rules of thumb do not apply. So if the truck driver says "Yes, I am willing to drive a forklift", and is assigned to the loading dock, then all bets are off.
Terms of Hire:
If a clerical worker were hired as a general factotum, and his duties were changed from filing to typing, then that change may not be unexpected. Unspecified duties are typical of many unskilled occupations, as well as clerical and management positions. This distinction may reasonably require the manager to perform many duties as various as being an accountant one hour and helping on the loading dock the next.
Adverse Impact:
The changes must adversely affect either the worker's career or his income. Transferring the accountant from the $50k per year office to the $8 per hour loading dock adversely affects his income and his career. Transferring him from payroll to taxes may not.
Permanent Changes:
The changes must not be temporary. Assigning a truck driver to help with inventory for one week is not a permanent change in job conditions; it's just everybody pitching in. Handing his truck to someone else, taking his keys, and giving him a forklift, is more permanent.
Promotion:
A worker may even conceivably quit because he was promoted, and collect unemployment compensation. See the "War Story" immediately below.
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CHANGE IN WORK ASSIGNMENTS

Generally, an employer may direct employees what work to do. Therefore, routine changes in work assignments, even if they are less desirable to a worker, are not good cause for a quit.

Major Changes:
If those changes constitute a major change from the original employment agreement and from the worker’s usual experience and skill, then this rule of thumb does not apply.
Agreements:
If the worker and employer had an express written agreement which is violated by these changes, then this rule of thumb does not apply.
Detriment:
If these changes make a significant detriment to the worker, then this rule of thumb does not apply.
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REDUCTION OR CHANGE IN THE HOURS OF WORK

A change in the hours of work, with no loss of earnings, is not generally good cause for leaving employment. Neither is a reduction in the hours of work. Neither are long hours.

Change in Hours:
The employer normally has the prerogative to set the hours of work. If shift work is customary in the industry or business, workers are expected to be available for work.
Reduction in Hours:
If reduced hours reduces earnings below a worker’s weekly benefit amount, he will normally be entitled to a partial benefit, and he can search for new, full-time work in his off hours.
Exceptions:
  1. A worker may be eligible if a reduction in hours is so great that it amounts, in effect, to a layoff.
  2. A worker may be eligible if a reduction in hours results in a corresponding reduction in income to the point that it is not cost-effective for the worker to continue with the part-time work. The worker must show that the cost of continuing work at the reduced hours, including child care, transportation, etc., is greater than the income from the work plus partial benefits.
  3. The worker may be eligible if he leaves because continuing in the reduced work unreasonably interferes with the worker’s ability to find new, full-time work. For example:
    • The worker had to relocate to accept an apparently bona fide, full-time job offer.
    • The worker had to relocate in order to find an available job market for his skills.
  4. If the worker had a commitment for specific work hours in the agreement of hire, a change in those work hours, imposed unilaterally by the employer, may give the worker good cause to quit.
Agreement of Hire:
Much depends upon the original agreement of hire. Take, as an example, a heavy equipment repairman. His work may consist of long periods on call when the actual hours of work are few, punctuated by periods when repairs must be completed as soon as possible, no matter how long a workday it takes. If he is made aware of these conditions at the time of hire, then he may not collect unemployment on the basis of them later.
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TRANSFER OF WORK

If the workplace is moved beyond a reasonable commute, that will generally be good cause for quitting. The distance regarded as reasonable will vary widely from state to state, and even from place to place within a state.

Residence:
Workers are not required to relocate their residences, nor to travel beyond their job market, to maintain their employment, unless:
  1. Relocation is a customary practice of the industry. An example of this might be heavy construction.
  2. Travel or relocation among different offices is an express term and condition of the agreement of hire. An example might be; "We want to hire you as our roving manager, understanding that we will relocate you from time to time."
  3. When a worker accepts relocation or agrees to commute an unusual distance for longer than a reasonable trial period, he waives his right to quit after that on grounds of the relocation or the commute. So there is a difference between "I'll try it for a week" and trying it for a year.
  4. If the assignment to a different work site is only temporary or is occasional, and it does not cause a substantial harm to the worker, and it serves a reasonable business purpose, then he may not quit for good cause. An example might be: "We need you to help out in the next town for two days while Joe is on vacation."
Transfer of Spouse:
When a spouse is transferred a considerable distance, or moves for some other important reason (such as to take care of an ailing parent), many states will regard this as a good and compelling reason for a quit, and will pay the claim.
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PROBATIONARY PERIODS

Once a worker has accepted employment for a probationary period, he has accepted employment. If he now quits at the end of his probation, then he has voluntarily quit his employment. If the employer decides not to continue to employ the worker at the end of his probation, then it is a discharge.

Change of Conditions:
If the worker is offered new work by the same employer, rather than the work which he agreed to try for, he may have quit with good cause. An example might be a welder, offered work as a welder, who, after completing probation, is then told that he will be kept on to grind slag instead of to weld. Essentially, the employer has discharged him as a welder and offered a new job as a grinder.
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DISSATISFACTION WITH PAY

If the employer fails to pay wages in accordance with the agreement of hire, this is generally good cause for the worker to quit.

Commissions:
If a salesman is hired with the express understanding that his income depends upon commissions, and then the sales which would have generated those commissions do not materialize, and he quits for that reason, then he would generally not be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.
Equality:
If an employee demands but does not receive pay on a par with other employees at the same job and / or at the same company, but does not receive it, and quits for that reason, then he would generally not be eligible for unemployment compensation.
Payroll Problems:
If the worker's pay is not forthcoming, complete, and reliable, then a worker may quit for that reason and collect unemployment compensation. An example might be paychecks which bounce. A worker has the right to expect his pay check to be on time, complete, and immediately negotiable.

An employer need not act willfully or in bad faith, nor must it be insolvent, before the worker has good cause to quit. A pattern of late payment for any reason may establish good cause. Of course, an inadvertent very occasional failure is distinct from a repeated failure.

Misrepresentation:
If the employer assures the applicant that there will be opportunities for earnings which then do not materialize, then a worker may usually quit for that reason and collect unemployment compensation. An example might be a worker who is assured that there will be plenty of overtime and certain bonuses which then to not eventuate.
Wage Reduction:
A worker may have good cause for quitting if his wages are reduced either substantially below the wages he was getting, or at all below minimum wage, or in some states substantially below prevailing wage. The precise meaning of the decisive word "substantially" will vary widely from one state agency to another. Some states set out a certain percentage reduction as a guideline.
Benefits:
Benefits are part of a worker's pay. A reduction in benefits will therefore generally have the same effect as a reduction in pay.
Changed Methods of Pay:
The method by which wages are paid is normally a prerogative of the employer. Even a change from an hourly wage to a commission will not usually justify quitting unless the worker can show that, regardless of effort, it is not feasible for him to earn a comparable income.
Expected Raises:
Raises and promotions are normally granted at the discretion of the employer. Unless the worker had an employment agreement which expressly provides for periodic raises and promotions under certain conditions, quitting for failure to receive discretionary raises or promotions is not good cause.
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UNSAFE WORKING CONDITIONS

If a worker is subjected to unsafe working conditions, he generally has good cause to quit.

The Problem of Proof:
The common problem in claims based upon "unsafe working conditions" is proof. The worker maintains that the work place is unsafe. The employer vigorously defends his safety record. Proof may be decided by logic, by credibility, or by safety records. The burden of proof rests with the worker.
Management Must Know:
The worker must demonstrate that he has made his concerns known to management in an effort to resolve the safety problems, and that his effort failed to resolve a real problem.
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DISCIPLINARY ACTION

The employer has the authority to control the work place and to establish reasonable rules of discipline. A reasonable reprimand or disciplinary action is not good cause for a quit.

Following Procedures:
If the employer has established a formal disciplinary policy which includes such provisions as progressive discipline and grievance procedures, and the employer arbitrarily fails to follow this policy, the worker may have good cause to quit.
Uniformity:
Any disciplinary system should be applied uniformly. A disciplinary system is not invalid or discriminatory simply because it treats different types of employees differently. As an example, truck drivers daily driving company trucks and office workers who occasionally drive a company car working for the same company may be subject to very different rules and procedures regarding driving infractions or drivers' licenses. Likewise, a disciplinary system may treat different classes of workers differently. As an example, salaried supervisors may be subject to very different attendance rules than hourly workers.
Agreement:
A worker need not agree with a reasonable disciplinary measure, nor need he admit culpability for an offense, but he may need to abide by that decision anyway, or be disqualified. Even when a worker signs a disciplinary warning, that may not mean that he admits to anything other than that he received the warning.
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LEAVING TO ACCEPT A BETTER JOB

Leaving work to accept another job is not good cause. Remember: good cause must be in connection with the present job. If for some reason the new job falls through, a worker will be disqualified for leaving his previous work without good cause until he re qualifies in the usual way.
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LEAVING BECAUSE OF UNION REQUIREMENTS

Unions swing large blocks of votes and contribute staggering sums of money to political campaigns. As a result, unions enjoy many unfair advantages under the law. Unemployment is no exception.

If a worker quits because of dissatisfaction with union membership requirements, he will generally be disqualified for leaving his employment without good cause. This sort of thing might happen as the result of a change in union membership requirements or provisions covering existing employees.

Refusal to Join:
If a worker compels his employer to discharge him by refusing to join a union under a closed union shop agreement, it may even be construed as a constructively quit. Nonunion employees may object to the imposition of a union shop, but usually may not refuse to join, once it has been imposed. Union shop agreements are generally enforceable against employees unless the provisions of the agreement violate an employee’s specific legal rights or the particular employment is covered by a state right-to-work law.
Union Activities:
An employer may not retaliate against an employee for engaging in union activities. This would give the worker good cause to quit.
Witholding:
An employer may withhold union dues.
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LEAVING BECAUSE OF LACK OF TRANSPORTATION

A worker who quits because he lacks transportation will generally be disqualified for voluntarily quitting without good cause. Transportation is generally the responsibility of the worker, unless the employer has expressly agreed to provide it.
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PERSONAL REASONS

A worker who quits for personal or domestic reasons will usually be disqualified for quitting without good cause. To avoid disqualification, the reason for quitting must not only be good, it must ordinarily be connected with the work.

Family Obligations:
Leaving to care for sick or disabled members of the family is a good reason, but not connected with the work.
Child Care:
This is a shamefully common problem to which there seems to be no solution. The fact remains that quitting because of lack of affordable childcare is a good reason but not connected with the work.
School:
Leaving to attend school is a good reason not connected with the work.
Illness:
Leaving because of personal illness is a good reason not connected with the work, unless that illness is job connected.
Accompanying a Spouse:
Leaving to accompany a spouse to a different geographic location is a good reason, not connected with the work, but which nevertheless may not disqualify the worker in many states which make an exception for such circumstances.
Abuse, Harassment, Stalking:
In many states, a woman may quit to relocate to avoid spousal abuse, harassment, or stalking, and be eligible to collect benefits.
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DRUG POLICIES

If a worker leaves because he either opposes or refuses to comply with the employer’s drug and alcohol testing policies, he will have quit without good cause.

Court Decisions:
Recent U.S. Supreme Court opinions have upheld mandatory drug testing policies in sensitive law enforcement and public safety cases. Its continued validity will be affected by ongoing court challenges and litigation, especially at the federal court level. The prevailing climate of opinion seems to be that any injuries to personal rights and privacy are outweighed by the right to a drug-free work force.
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DISSATISFACTION

Purely subjective personal dissatisfaction with work conditions or supervisors is not good cause for quitting.

Objective Evidence:
A worker should provide objective evidence that he had good reasons which were connected with the work for quitting his job.
Organizational Changes:
A worker may find a change in organization or ownership or management objectionable. This does not provide him good cause for a quit.
Supervisors:
A worker may quit because of intemperate behavior by a supervisor, or because he feels he cannot work with a new supervisor. This does not provide him good cause for a quit.
Animosity:
A worker may quit because of animosity, felt or borne, between himself and another worker or a supervisor. This does not provide him good cause for a quit.
Quality of Work:
A worker may quit because he is not satisfied with the quality of work. This does not provide him good cause for a quit.
Rules:
A worker may quit because he is not satisfied with certain rules or changes in the rules. This does not provide him good cause for a quit. The employer has a right to promulgate rules and requirements for the employees which the employer deems necessary for the efficient operation and conduct of the business.
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ILLNESS OR INJURY

A worker who quits because of an illness or injury, which is not connected with the work, will generally be disqualified for quitting without good cause.

A worker who quits because of an illness or injury which is connected with the work generally has good cause.

Pre-Existing:
A worker’s underlying illness or injury must be work connected. A pre-existing illness or injury is not job connected even if it is aggravated by the work. If a person of normal health would not be affected by the work, then the aggravation exists because of the illness or injury, and not because of the work.
Doctor's Note:
A doctor's note does not by itself make an illness or injury job connected. Doctors write notes based upon what the patient tells them. There should be some other, independent evidence of what caused the illness or injury.
Doctor's Release:
Often, a doctor’s release will state only that the worker was released to return to work on a certain date. The note will say nothing about the worker’s condition prior to the date of release. It should not be implied from such a release that the worker was sick or incapacitated up to the date of release unless other corroborating evidence exists.
Notwithstanding:
Notwithstanding that the two principles enunciated above concerning doctor's notes and releases may seem like common sense, good luck getting them to fly. The general deference toward doctors may overpower these principles.
Stress or Exhaustion:
Sometimes a worker will strenuously claim that her illness is the result of the stress of work. The problem with this is that stress is a subjective term and the cause of stress is a subjective judgment. How do you establish either the cause or the effect objectively?

Some evidence must show specific job-related conditions which are uncommon for that type of work. Or else, some evidence must show that the job conditions of that type of work would adversely affect a person of ordinary health and ability. Too often, a statement from a psychiatrist is accorded the status of objective proof. Yet, the psychiatrist only interviews the worker. He does not survey the work site, nor does he interview the employer. His testimony is one-sided second-hand subjective interpretation, which gains credence only from his professional status. There does not seem to be a cure for this dilemma.

It is also a common strategy for a worker who has voluntarily left her employment to afterwards allege vague job connected and very subjective stress and anxiety symptoms.

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Job-Related:
A worker who quits because of an illness or injury which is connected with the work has good cause and will be qualified for benefits if he is otherwise eligible for benefits.

A pair of examples will illustrate the "otherwise eligible" emphasis:

  • A painter develops a severe skin reaction to the urethane paints his employer uses. His employer has no other work to offer him which does not use urethane paint. So he quits. He is still able, available, and looking for other painting work not using urethane paint. He has quit for job-connected health reasons, but is eligible to collect.
  • The same painter, the same circumstance, but this time the doctor tells him cannot return to painting at all without two months recuperation. For those two months, he collects worker's compensation. He is neither able, available nor searching for work. He has quit for work-related reasons, but he does not qualify for unemployment.
Proof:
The worker has the burden to establish that the illness or injury is, first, substantial enough to constitute good cause, and, second, that it was caused by the job.
Preserving Employment:
If a worker’s illness or injury is work connected, the worker must still establish that all reasonable steps were taken to preserve his employment. This may include:
  • Complying with the employer’s established sick leave policies and rules.
  • Keeping the employer reasonably notified of his medical progress.
  • Returning to work as soon as medically released for work by the treating physician.
  • Providing all medical records or physicians’ statements reasonably requested by the employer.
Refusal to Reinstate:
If a worker’s illness or injury is work connected and the employer replaces him and /or refuses to reinstate him when he is medically released, the separation then becomes a discharge.
Refusal to Return:
If the worker refuses to return to available work when he is medically released, the separation then becomes a quit without good cause.
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HARASSMENT AND VERBAL ABUSE

Harassment, unwarranted or discriminatory treatment and verbal abuse will constitute good cause to quit a job when such abuse renders the working conditions untenable and there is no reasonable alternative to quitting.

Examples:
Harassment or verbal abuse might include:
  • Repeated abusive, obscene or racially demeaning language by supervisors.
  • Discrimination in work assignments.
  • Discrimination in the way that rules are enforced.
  • Harassment or abuse from co-workers, if not resolved by the employer.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • Discrimination based upon racial, ethnic or sex status.
Proof:
Attempts at Resolution:
To establish good cause for a quit on the basis of harassment or verbal abuse, the worker must show:
  • That the harassment or verbal abuse were serious, repeated, and significantly affected working conditions.
  • That the worker made reasonable but unsuccessful attempts to resolve the problems with the employer or supervisor.
Harassment vs. Discipline:
At times, what the worker contends was harassment and pressure, the employer will call corrective action. Here, credibility comes into play.
Sexual Harassment:
An employer is required to keep sexual harassment out of the work place. Sexual harassment, if established by reasonable evidence, is good cause to quit. What actually constitutes harassment is, however, extremely ambiguous and subjective.
Racial Harassment:
Racial, ethnic or other invidious discrimination in the terms and conditions of work, if established by reasonable evidence, is good cause to quit.
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PREGNANCY

Prior to 1980, some states had laws disqualifying workers who quit work solely due to pregnancy. Others had case law which did the same thing. But, then, Congress passed an amendment to the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, 26 U.S.C. Sec 3304 (a) (12) providing that: "no state shall deny compensation solely on the basis of pregnancy or termination of pregnancy."

In 1981, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in the case of Brown v. Porcher, affirmed a US District Court Judgment which held that the amendment mentioned above mandated preferential treatment for pregnant women. Women whose are unemployed solely due to pregnancy, they said, could not be denied unemployment, even if other forms of disability were.

However, in 1987, the United States Supreme Court reviewed this issue in Wimberly v. Labor and Industrial Relations Comm. The Supreme Court overruled the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court said that this section of the statute was an anti-discrimination provision, not a preferential treatment provision.

Under the Supreme Court’s interpretation, the states can disqualify separations solely due to pregnancy on the same basis as separations resulting from other disabilities.

Until next time it is reviewed.

The result of all this back and forth is that, if a woman is forced to leave her employment solely due to pregnancy or health complications related to pregnancy, she will be eligible for benefits on the same basis as any other temporarily disabled person.

The following circumstances may apply:

  • She may not be able to receive benefits during any time that she is medically restricted from work.
  • She should be able and available for work.
  • If her former work is not available, she may have to seek new work.
  • If she is either discharged or laid off by her employer prior to her disability, she may be eligible for benefits until her disability begins.
  • If she is not reinstated in her former employment after she is medical released to return to work, she may be eligible for benefits.
Solely Due to Pregnancy:
The recurring phrase "solely due to pregnancy" means that there can be no other cause for the worker’s unemployment.
Available Leave:
The worker must comply with the employer’s leave of absence policies covering pregnancy or disability.
Additional Time:
The worker may not be able to take leave prior to or following her actual disability. So if a woman on leave becomes disabled, or if a woman coming off a pregnancy disability immediately takes a leave, this may, in some states, strangely disqualify her.
Leave for Child Care:
The worker may not take an extended leave for child rearing purposes under a pregnancy provision. If she does not return to work after being medically released to work, then her unemployment is no longer "solely due to pregnancy". She could then become eligible under other provisions.
FMLA:
All this is entirely distinct from the thorny Family Medical Leave Act, which provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for care of a newborn or new adoption, for care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or for the employee's own serious health condition. FMLA is not unemployment compensation.
Birth and Adoption Benefits:
All this is also entirely distinct from the so-called "Baby UI" proposals, which would pay unemployment benefits to parents of newly born or adopted babies. "Baby UI" is unemployment compensation, but is not a pregnancy quit.
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QUITTING DUE TO RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

If a worker quits because of conflicts between his work and his religious convictions or practices, his separation will be a voluntary quit with good cause.

The United States Supreme Court has held that states may not deny benefits to persons who are forced to leave their work because of the exercise of their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Accomodation:
Employers are required to make a reasonable effort to accommodate employees’ bona fide religious beliefs and practices. They can refuse to accommodate the employee if the practices are irreconcilable with the work and cannot reasonably be accommodated.
Sham Beliefs:
A disqualification can be imposed if it is determined that the worker’s religious beliefs were not, in fact, the actual reason for the separation, that the religious conviction claim was a sham, or if the worker refused the employer’s accommodation without good cause.

However, case law makes the standard for "bona fide" and "sincerely held" purely subjective. It is, therefore, practically impossible to challenge anyone on the sincerity of their religious convictions.

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POLYGRAPH TESTS

A worker who quits rather than submit to his employer’s lawful request to take a polygraph test has quit without good cause.

However, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 severely restricts the use of polygraphs for purposes of disciplining employees or of hiring prospective employees. Private employers may not discharge, discipline or discriminate in any manner, nor deny employment or promotion to, nor even to threaten to take any action against, any employee or prospective employee who refuses a test, or who fails to submit to a test, nor against any employee on the basis of test results.

So a worker may not quit rather than take the test, but he can certainly refuse to take the test. The employer cannot use that refusal against him. And the test results are virtually useless to the employer anyway.

Take the Test or Else:
This is the commonest polygraph-related unemployment case. If the employer demands that his employees take a polygraph test, the employee refuses to be tested, and he is given an ultimatum to take the test or leave, and leaves, then this will result in a "constructive discharge". A quit under these circumstances is not a voluntary quit.
Exceptions:
Federal law excepts Federal government from its prohibitions against the use of polygraphs. These exceptions are beyond the scope of these general remarks
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CAVEAT: SPECIFIC LAWS AND REGULATIONS VARY WIDELY FROM STATE TO STATE. THESE ARE ONLY GENERAL REMARKS. UNEMPLOYMENT TAX ADVISORY CORPORATION DOES NOT RECOMMEND NOR ADVISE ANY MATERIAL CONDUCT ON THE BASIS OF THESE REMARKS. FOR ADVICE RELATING TO YOUR SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES, CALL UTA AT 1 800 998 8822.