Getting unemployment benefits after a termination of a is a much-needed safety net between jobs. In New Jersey, benefits can start at 60% of an employee’s average weekly wage during the base period (the first 4 or 5 calendar quarters before the unemployment benefits were sought), with more provided if the care of a dependent is involved. The benefits can last for up to 26 weeks (though a 13-week extension can be issued by the federal government if a state’s unemployment rate reaches a certain level).
Requirements for eligibility are: 1) past earnings that meet a minimum threshold; 2) availability for work and actively seeking new employment and; 3) termination of employment through no fault of her or his own.
According to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, if an employee quits or retires from her or his job without “good cause connected with the work,” she/he may be unable to collect the benefits. State law also says that “good cause” includes all reasons that are so compelling that the employee had no choice but to quit.
The reason must be strictly connected with the work itself, and not due to outside factors such as relocation or family constraints (though there are exceptions, such as cases where an employee is fleeing domestic violence or is moving due to the relocation of a military spouse). Examples of compelling reasons connected with work are prolonged unsafe working conditions and sexual or other harassment ignored by upper management. After quitting a job, an employee seeking unemployment benefits will be required to talk to a claims examiner, who will decide if the employee qualifies for benefits. This interview will likely require documentation and evidence (complaints, text messages or emails, medical records) illustrating the reasons for termination, especially if the allegations are that the employee had no choice but to quit.
Before 2012, eligibility when a worker was forced to quit a job was less clear. In a case that year called Lord v. Board of Review, a New Jersey Appellate Court decided that an ultimatum was not a “voluntary” action of the employee, but rather a firing in disguise, which did not prevent the employee in that case from getting benefits. The ruling, however, is limited. Each case depends on each employee’s specific facts surrounding the end of the job. We encourage employees to keep thorough documentation to support all claims of forced resignations. Hostile resignation letters to an employer, which clearly state that an employee is resigning against his will, can be additional evidence of a lack of choice in the termination of employment. Loree Varella, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016 collaborated with me on this blog. She is Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal and Managing Research Editor of that publication.