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Mysterious People & Rude Comments Don't Equal Unemployment Benefits

defaul.pngAn early May Appeals Court decision said that being required to keep performance logs in response to substandard work, a comment alluding to race and the existence of "mysterious people" who ask how you are doing when exiting your office does not amount to a work environment that justifies resigning from a job and getting unemployment benefits.

G.P. appealed a decision by the Board Of Review (Board) of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (Department) that disqualified her from unemployment benefits, because she left "work without good cause attributable to the work." She began working for defendant S.C. in February 2014. In October, data she entered into the computer system started to go missing. She testified that her supervisor screamed at her and didn't allow her to attend certain computer training. She also said the supervisor said things like "what do you think you're a soul sister you don't know stuff like that." G.P. is white/Hispanic.

The next month, she submitted an Employee Complaint/Concern Form detailing the allegations against the supervisor. A few days later, the supervisor "sent [G.P.] an email with an attached Employee Warning Notice, and asked her to keep daily logs of her work, since she failed to timely input significant amounts of data." In response to the investigation, the company changed her supervisor to another woman.

In early December, G.P. notified the company's CEO that she believed her new supervisor had incorrectly charged patients and had improperly coded medical records. The company then asked her to take time off while they investigated. She responded by locking her door and turning in her keys. At a meeting between the old and new supervisor and her, it was claimed that G.P. was hostile openly toward the new supervisor.

G.P. also said that around the same time, she began to see strange people when leaving the office who would ask "Hi - how you doing?" as well as other unexplained mysterious things. "I couldn't handle having to worry that I could be falsely accused of fabricating data and going to jail," she said. She claimed that that these things made her employment "unbearable," submitted a resignation letter and applied for unemployment benefits, which was denied. It was found she did not leave work for "good cause," the standard for getting benefits after quitting a job.

She appealed to the Appeal Tribunal of the Department, which confirmed the decision, because G.P. did not show that her working conditions were abnormal, or that her supervisor's actions were sufficient cause to resign. On appeal, the Appeals Court repeated the law that when a person voluntarily leaves work, he or she must show it was for good cause to receive benefits. The court then reviewed the "soul sister" comment and the performance log requirement in response to her poor performance - and found that they did not amount to good cause.

With respect to the mysterious strange people, the Court found that she never spoke with management about it or attempted to determine their identity. This situation also does not amount to a work environment so abnormal or unbearable that resignation is the only option.

There is a "public policy interest" that taxpayer funded benefits be given only to those who are out of work through no fault of their own. A person who feels he or she is being subject to an unbearable or hostile work or "strange" environment should consult an attorney before quitting the job. Evan Xavier Bakhet is a J.D. Candidate at Rutgers School of Law-Newark with a scheduled graduation date in 2017. He collaborated with me on this blog.

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