They Quit. Can They Now Collect Unemployment?
We often hear employers complaining, “She can’t collect unemployment. She quit!”
But is that always the case?
The answer is no – there are times when an individual is eligible for unemployment benefits after a voluntary quit.
It’s critical for employers to familiarize themselves with the general guidelines the EDD uses when determining whether or not a claimant is eligible for benefits. The UI Code says:
“In general, good cause, as used in an unemployment compensation statute, means such a cause as justifies an employee’s voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed; the quitting must be for such a cause as would reasonably motivate, in a similar situation, the average able-bodied and qualified worker to give up his or her employment with its certain wage rewards in order to enter the ranks of the compensated unemployed.”
In other words, if the person quits for a “compelling” reason, as opposed to a “personal” reason, they may be eligible for benefits.
We all have our own opinions of compelling vs. personal reasons, but we are bound by the UI Code.
Section 1256 of the Unemployment Insurance Code gives several examples of compelling reasons to quit. Not to mention, these are win-win situations – the claimant gets to collect benefits, and the employer’s reserve account is not charged.
A few examples of these types of reasons include:
- leaving work to accompany a spouse to a new location
- to protect themselves or their children from domestic violence
- a threat to the employee’s health or safety
- lack of adequate transportation
- the need to care for a family member.
However, several factors that can potentially negate a quit with good cause. If there is a health or safety issue, are there other remedies available? If the person with a health problem could instead take a leave of absence, it may not be necessary to leave altogether. It could also be possible to modify the person’s job duties so, for example, that person would not have to do heavy lifting if that was the issue they were facing. Perhaps the person is exposed to excessive noise, dust, or cold – the work station could be moved or modified to alleviate the problem.
If there is a transportation problem, what attempt was made to solve the problem? Are there buses that would take the person to work? If the person just doesn’t want to ride the bus, the reason for leaving would be personal. If the person would have to spend 3 hours and take 3 different buses to get to work, that would be excessive, and probably a compelling reason to leave. If it would cost the person more to get to work than the person earns, another compelling reason would be established.
If the person has to stay home to take care of a family member, what alternatives are possible? Can someone else help care for the family member? Is the employee staying home because of personal choice, or out of necessity?
There are plenty of other eligibility tests beyond the reason itself. Someone may have to stay home to take care of a family member. That could be a quit with good cause. However, to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits, the person also has to be “able and available” for work and “actively searching for work.” If the employee’s presence is genuinely necessary and caused them to leave their job, how can the person now be “able and available” and “actively searching” for work? The claim could be protested on those issues.
Examples of personal reasons to quit:
- to attend school
- to become self-employed
- general job dissatisfaction
- leaving work prior to discharge or in anticipation of discharge
Precedent Benefit Decision P-B-8 says that the employee must show that leaving work was the only alternative, and that the person gave the employer an opportunity to resolve the problem. If an employee announces a quit, be sure to ask the person for the reason. If that person refuses to tell you, denying you the opportunity to resolve the problem, that could negate even a good cause for leaving.
Tip: If an employee leaves to take another job that has already been offered to the employee, try to get the name of the future employer. If you end up receiving an unemployment insurance claim for that person, you can give that information to the EDD on your protest.
Remember the three important words in HR – document, document, document. If they hadn’t already done so on their own, ask the person to write a letter of resignation. If all it says is: “This is my two weeks notice. My last day will be…” then the employee did not state a reason for leaving that would have given you an opportunity to solve the problem. If the person refuses to write a letter of resignation, you may write it for them. Ask the reason why the person is leaving, include it in the document, and have the employee sign it. An exit interview form is an excellent form of documentation. If there is no problem stated, then later the person tells the EDD different information, you have a good case for showing that the employer was not given an opportunity to resolve the problem.
For more information, you can visit the EDD website, which contains the entire UI code as well as precedent decisions, fact sheets, sample forms, and plenty of other useful information.
Written and edited by EHR staff, September 2018.