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Kates Nussman Rapone Ellis & Farhi, LLP

HOW DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS SHOULD GET UNEMPLOYMENT

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To make a claim for unemployment benefits in New Jersey, you have to show that you didn't leave your job "voluntarily without good cause." So if you leave work for any personal reason not related to the work, you can't make a successful claim. But an exception exists for victims of domestic violence. If a person leaves a job "due to circumstances resulting from the individual being a victim of domestic violence," as defined by the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, she or he may be able to claim unemployment.


There has to be proof of: (1) a restraining order issued by a court; (2) a police record documenting the domestic violence; (3) documentation that the perpetrator of the domestic violence has been convicted of an act of domestic violence; (4) medical documentation of the domestic violence; (5) certification from a certified Domestic Violence Specialist or director of a designated domestic violence agency; or (6) "other documentation or certification of the domestic violence provided by a social worker, member of the clergy, shelter worker or other professional who has assisted the individual in dealing with the domestic violence."


A recent New Jersey Appellate Court decision called L.C. v. Board of Review interpreted and expanded that 6th category. In that case, the Court considered if a statement from the claimant's lawyer qualified. The claimant testified that she quit her job and moved to Utah to flee her abusive ex-husband and seek better economic opportunities. She and two other witnesses testified at her unemployment hearing that she was repeatedly physically and emotionally abused by her ex-husband for several years. Her former divorce attorney also submitted a letter in support of her claim, giving a detailed list of the abuse. Unfortunately, the Department of Labor's Board of Review upheld the decision of the hearing examiner that there was inadequate evidence to prove that L.C. was a victim of domestic violence. There was no consideration of the attorney's letter.


The Appellate Court reversed and sent the case back for a rehearing, after deciding that a sworn statement by an attorney is an acceptable source of "documentation or [a] certification of the domestic violence" to establish the domestic violence exemption. The Board of Review was ordered to review the lawyer's letter. It said that an attorney assisting a client in dealing with domestic violence would have similar knowledge of the claimant's situation as would a social worker, shelter worker and domestic violence specialist. This decision noted that it was consistent with the domestic violence exemption's purpose of preventing "economic concerns from causing a victim to hesitate in taking all appropriate actions to increase personal safety in what may potentially be a life-threatening situation" and also was in line with the efforts of other states to allow attorneys to certify domestic violence in an unemployment claim.


The Court also ruled that a claimant seeking an exemption as a victim of domestic violence must also show that the abuse resulted in "circumstances that were a substantial factor, but not the only one, in causing her or his' decision to resign." With the collaboration of Connor Turpan, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016 and Associate Editor on the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal.

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