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.

In DeLorenzo v. Board of Review, 54 N.J. 361 (1969) the Court decided that an employee who became ill for reasons unrelated to work was entitled to unemployment benefits because, “when an employee becomes ill and does those things reasonably calculated to protect the employment [then] . . . there is no voluntary leaving of work.” Haley v. Bd. of Review, DOL, 2021 N.J. LEXIS 223, *17, quoting DeLorenzo, supra., 54 N.J. at 364. And in Utley v. Board of Review, 194 N.J. 534, 550 (2008), the Court underscored that leaving work for reasons listed in N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(e) is not a per se bar to unemployment benefits. Rather, in evaluating a separation from work for one of the reasons listed in that regulation, “all relevant factors” must be considered, including whether the applicant for benefits engaged in voluntary acts resulting in the absence from work, whether he or she actively tried to keep the job, and the length of absence from work. Haley v. Bd. of Review, DOL, 2021 N.J. LEXIS 223, *18.

The Court in Haley required the DWLD to do what it did in DeLorenzo and Utley and ordered the agency to engage in an intensive review of the totality of the circumstances surrounding Haley’s detention and release to determine whether he “left work voluntarily.” The fact-sensitive analysis to be done by the DWLD is to consider that authorities arrested Haley, the criminal court ordered him to be detained pretrial, the grand jury declined to indict, and the charges against him were dismissed. Id. at *19. The Court pointed out that Haley was detained in jail for only two months, and like the claimant in DeLorenzo, took steps to preserve his job. The Court further emphasized that Haley’s arrest and detention were “not the end, but only one important part of the inquiry” under N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(e)(10). *20.

Eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits is determined on a case-by-case basis and depends on the specific facts of each claim. At Mashel Law, LLC, we are well experienced in handling New Jersey unemployment appeals. For immediate help call the attorneys at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page. At Mashel Law, LLC, located in Marlboro, New Jersey, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of employees.


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