If you are unemployed and you left your New Jersey job because you reasonable believed you would be fired or laid off, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits. Generally, employees who voluntarily quit working may not qualify for unemployment benefits because “the purpose of the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Act [UCA] is to provide some income for the worker earning nothing, because he is out of work through no fault or act of his own….” Battaglia v. Bd. of Review, 14 N.J. Super. 24, 27 (App.Div.1951); see also Yardville Supply Co. v. Bd. of Review, 114 N.J. 371, 375 (1989). The specific language in the UCA states, an individual employee shall be disqualified for benefits if he or she has left work voluntarily “without good cause attributable to such work.” “Good cause attributable to such work” means a reason related directly to the individual’s employment, which was so compelling as to give the individual no choice but to leave the employment.” N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(b). Put differently, the employer must be “at fault” for the employee’s quitting. This can be further conceptualized in two ways.
First, an employee who leaves work for a personal reason, or a reason not connected directly to the work, would likely be ineligible for unemployment benefits. The statute references several examples of what would constitute leaving work for personal reasons such as: a lack of transportation; care of children or other relatives; school attendance; self-employment; lack of housing; relocating to another area for personal reasons; relocating to another area to accompany a spouse, a civil union partner, or other relatives; voluntary retirement; to accept other work; or incarceration. N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(b)
Second, an employee who leaves work because of mere dissatisfaction with working conditions will likely be ineligible for unemployment benefits unless the work conditions are so unsafe or unhealthy that no reasonable person could withstand working in such an environment, and no remedial action was taken by the employer upon the employees’ complaint of the condition. N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(b). To illustrate the distinction, an office employee who complains of the office they work in being too warm or cold could not leave for good cause for such a reason because most reasonable employees would consider office temperature to be a slight discomfort. By contrast, if a construction worker were required to operate an electrical equipment to fix leaky roof may leave work for good cause if the worker can show they complained to their employer about the danger of being electrocuted and the employer made no effort to fix the condition.
Consider as well that an employee may still qualify for unemployment benefits when voluntarily quitting, “if an employee knows that he or she is about to be fired, the employee may quit without becoming ineligible.” Cottman v. Bd. of Review, 454 N.J. Super. 166, 170 (App. Div. 2018). The regulation states, “If an individual leaves work after he or she is notified by the employer of an impending layoff or discharge, he or she shall be subject to disqualification unless the individual will be separated within 60 days.” N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.5. More specifically, the circumstances must be so compelling as to indicate a strong probability that fears about the employee’s job security will in fact materialize, that serious impending threats to his [or her] job will be realized, and that the employee’s belief that his [or her] job is imminently threatened is well founded. Id. Put simply, an employee does not need to wait to be fired when discharge is reasonably imminent. Hence, an employee may resign and still be eligible for unemployment benefits. Id. This exception is narrowly construed.
For example, in Dziaba v. Bd. of Review, 2021 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2933 (App. Div. Dec. 2, 2021), Wladyslaw Dziaba (“Dziaba”), who worked as a truck driver and builder for Stone Express, Inc. (“SEI”), appealed the Board of Review’s (the “Board”) decision to deny his unemployment benefits for voluntarily quitting his job without “good cause attributable to the work”. Id. at *3. Specifically, Dziaba argued that he quit in the face of imminent discharge when he got into an argument with his boss over him allegedly causing damage to SEI’s vehicle. Id. The argument between the two concluded with Dziaba’s boss telling him to “do him a favor and leave his office” and “I’ll call you when I need to.” Id. Dziaba left but returned to work the next day to return the company credit car and car keys he was in possession of stating “he was done.” Id. Dziaba then never returned to work and his boss never called him back to come into work. Id.
Based on these facts, the Appellate Division held in favor of SEI affirming the Board’s decision that Dziaba failed to satisfy the high threshold for establishing imminent discharge. Id. The Appellate Division reasoned that Dziaba’s boss never used language indicating he was fired or rather permanently terminated. Id. Rather, Dziaba’s boss merely suspended him when asking he leave his office because he said he would call him when he needed him. Id. Furthermore, Dziaba did not take reasonable steps to keep his employment because in response to his suspension he relinquished control of his employer’s property and stated, “he was done.” Id. For these reasons the Court of appeals held in favor of the employer stating, “To allow Dziaba to receive benefits on these facts “would subvert the expressed policy of providing aid to those who are unemployed ‘through no fault of their own.’” Id.
Overall, eligibility of unemployment benefits will be determined on a case-by-case basis and will rely heavily on the specific facts of each unemployment claim.
At Mashel Law LLC, we are well experienced in handling New Jersey unemployment appeals. If you believe you are or have been denied unemployment benefits, call the attorneys at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page for immediate help. At Mashel Law, LLC, located in Marlboro, New Jersey, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of employees.