In Haley v. Bd. of Review, DOL, 2021 N.J. LEXIS 223* (Decided March 17, 2021) our New Jersey Supreme Court held that pretrial detention is not an absolute bar to receiving unemployment compensation benefits for the time following dismissal of the criminal charges and release from detention. Based on the specific facts presented, the Court concluded the Unemployment Compensation Law (UCL) and its regulatory analogs required the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Department (DWLD) to review the totality of the circumstances surrounding claimant Haley’s detention and release to determine whether he “left work voluntarily.” Because this was not done, the Court ordered the DWLD to do so.
Between May and December 2017, the claimant Clarence Haley was employed. In December 2017, authorities arrested Haley, charging him with a number of serious offenses. Haley was jailed pretrial, and his employer was informed of Haley’s predicament by his mother, who requested them to keep his job open because he intended to get the charges dismissed shortly. Two months after his arrest, a grand jury declined to indict Haley and the prosecutor dismissed all charges releasing Haley from detention. Thereafter, Haley filed an application for unemployment benefits arguing he was entitled to unemployment insurance benefits because his pretrial incarceration was not a voluntary departure from employment. The DLWD denied the application, finding that Haley left his job voluntarily for personal reasons. The Appeal Tribunal, Board of Review, and Appellate Division each affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification.
Under the UCL, an individual who “has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work” is “disqualified for benefits” until certain conditions are met. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(e) provides guidance as to what may, upon review, be deemed “voluntarily” leaving work. The reasons for leaving work set forth in N.J.A.C. 17-9.1(e) is a fact-sensitive analysis and has observed that it did not “intend that this rule automatically result in a finding of voluntarily leaving work without good cause attributable to the work when the leaving was due to the reasons listed.” It has stated, regarding separation through incarceration, that “the relevant circumstances of the individual’s incarceration will be considered in deciding the voluntary or involuntary nature of the separation.” Relatedly, incarceration – like the other reasons listed under N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(e) — is not, in and of itself, an absolute bar to unemployment benefits. Haley v. Bd. of Review, DOL, 2021 N.J. LEXIS 223, at *18 -*19.