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Saturday, March 13, 2021

NJ Employment Discrimination Attorney, I’m Unhappy at Work, Can I Quit Job and Collect Unemployment Benefits? Part 2 0f 2

Many employees at some point become unhappy with their work situation and feel “fed up” with their work environment. Sometimes they believe that their boss is pressuring them to resign.  They may need time to secure another position with a different employer but are concerned about the lack of income during the period after they quit and before they secure new employment.

If you are unhappy in your job and thinking about resigning, you should contact an experienced employment law attorney before you do so. If you think your employer is forcing you out, pressuring you to quit, discriminating against you, harassing you, or illegally retaliating against you, you can contact this law office now for a free consultation.

As discussed in Part I, with extremely rare exceptions, if a NJ worker quits their employment position, she/he generally will not be entitled to receive unemployment benefits. In determining whether a NJ claimant is entitled to benefits, the major question is whether the separation from work was involuntary. If it was a “Voluntary” quit, the NJ claimant bears the burden of proving that the quit was for good cause “attributable to work.” But beware, the phrase “attributable to work” is extremely narrowly defined by NJ case law and statute. It is not the conditions and/or causes emanating from the workplace and/or work environment that many claimants naturally would assume it to be. While there exists narrowly tailored rare exceptions, they will not all be addressed within the scope of this article.

Be advised that every unemployment compensation case has many potential problems which could lead to disqualification for benefits and this article is not intended in any manner to be giving legal advice in any particular case.  If you are going to file for unemployment, you should consult with an attorney prior to filing.

The Unemployment Compensation Law, “Act” or “UCL”,  is remedial in purpose. As the NJ Supreme Court stated in a 2017 case, McClain v Board of Review, "The essential objective of the Act is to provide some income for the worker earning nothing, because he  is out of work through no fault of his own.”

If a worker is separated from his employment due to a reduction-in-force or because he was terminated, it generally, but not always, would satisfy the “Involuntary” test. Yet claimants should be aware that employers, seeking to not have the severed employee receive either full or partial benefits, may argue to the Department of Labor that the employee committed misconduct and that is why he was selected to be terminated or let go in a downsizing. If the Department of Labor concludes the employer’s allegations are is true, the severed employee could be denied full or partial benefits, depending on the severity of the employee’s misconduct that the employer alleged.

The McClain Court reiterated that the UCL is social legislation providing financial assistance to eligible workers suffering the distress and dislocation caused by unemployment:

 “The underlying mission of the Act is to afford protection against the hazards of economic insecurity due to involuntary unemployment. The purpose of the Act is to provide some income for the worker earning nothing, because he is out of work through no fault or act of his own. Thus, the Act protects not only workers who are involuntarily unemployed , those who are laid-off or terminated from their jobs by their employers, but also those who voluntarily quit their jobs for good cause attributable to their work.”

Therefore, when it is a situation where the claimant voluntary quit his employment position, a court must distinguish between a voluntary quit with good cause attributable to the work which would entitle one to benefits,  and the situation of a voluntary quit without good cause attributable to the work in which case, benefits are generally denied.

In Self v. Board of Review, 91 N.J. 453, a 1982 case, the Court found that the lack of transportation was not good cause attributable to their employment within the purview of the Act. The Claimants who left work because of commuting problems and were not entitled to unemployment compensation. The Court held that an employee's problem of commuting to and from his work may be considered a good personal reason for leaving his employment, but it is not ordinarily to be considered a cause that is connected with or attributable to the work. Commuting is usually considered a problem of the employee.

In Self v. Board of Review, claimants, the employees at first had transportation to their employment but then were unable to find transportation to their place of employment. Their supervisor informed them that they would be replaced because they could not get to work. The employees filed for unemployment compensation but were denied. This case eventually made its way to the NJ Supreme Court. The NJ Supreme Court found that N.J. Stat. Ann. § 43:21-5(a) disqualified claimants who left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work from receiving unemployment compensation. The NJ Supreme Court found that the reason respondents were unable to work was not work-related, but personal in nature. The Court found that the lack of transportation was not good cause attributable to their employment within the purview of § 43:21-5(a). The NJ Supreme Court ruled that the claimants who left work because of commuting problems, were not entitled to unemployment compensation.

Every law has narrowly tailored exceptions such as in Utley v. Board of Review, a 2008 case. In Utley, the claimant had worked for the employer for 13 years and had a vision problem, which prevented him from driving. As a result, the claimant relied on public transportation to commute to and from work. The employer changed the claimant's work schedule to times in which the bus system that he relied on did not run. For a time, the claimant relied on co-workers for transportation, but with mandatory overtime, he asserted that he felt he had to resign because he could not stay. The court found that the claimant satisfied his burden under N.J.S.A. § 43:21-5(a) and N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1 by showing that he quit his job for good cause attributable to his work. The court noted that most times commuting was a personal problem of the claimant disqualifying him for benefits,  but that circumstances could exist, such as in the Utley situation, wherein the employer itself acted in a manner and changed the work schedule of a vision-impaired employee, that would still entitle the claimant to unemployment benefits. This is a narrowly tailored exception.

In Utley v. Bd. of Review, the Court discussed that when commuting problems arise solely from the personal circumstances of the worker, unrelated to an alteration in the terms or conditions of employment, the worker who voluntarily quits his job cannot show good cause qualifying him for unemployment benefits. Commuting is usually considered a problem of the employee.

Yet the Utley Court acknowledged that there could be circumstances in which the employer set in motion the chain of events that led to a worker's inability to get to work, thus qualifying that employee for unemployment benefits under N.J.S.A. § 43:21-5(a). The Utley Court acknowledged that a case could possibly be envisaged in which a sudden change in employment circumstances greatly increasing the commuting distance from home to job would properly be regarded as a condition attributable to the work rather than to the employee. However, Utley was very narrowly interpreted by later courts, and persons should consult with an attorney before applying for benefits. This article should not be relied upon, nor construed as giving legal advice on how to be successful in obtaining unemployment compensation benefits.

In Yardville Supply Co. v. Bd. of Review, 114 N.J. 371,  a 1989 case, a truck driver for employer was convicted of driving while intoxicated and received a six-month suspension of his driving privileges. The employer informed the driver that work in a non-driving capacity was not available. Although the  driver was initially granted unemployment benefits, the case made its way to the NJ Supreme Court which held that the driver was disqualified from collecting benefits under the Unemployment Compensation Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 43:21-5(a) because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to his work The court found that the loss of a prerequisite of employment was traceable directly to conduct for which the driver was responsible, his decision to drink and drive, which was made despite the knowledge that he was endangering his sole livelihood as a truck driver. The Court held that the truck driver was disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to his work with the employer.

IF YOU ARE VERY UNHAPPY IN YOUR JOB

If you are unhappy in your job and thinking about resigning, you should contact an experienced employment law attorney before you do so. If you think your employer is forcing you out or discriminating against you, or illegally retaliating against you, you should call me call me now. I am an aggressive and compassionate employment law attorney who is successful in bringing discrimination, whistleblower, and illegal retaliation lawsuits and recovering money for workers who were subjected to their employer’s illegal acts. I have successfully represented employees of public entities and private employers, who were harassed, retaliated against, terminated or did not have their contract for employment renewed because of their employer's illegal bias and was successful in obtaining monetary compensation for them.

If you are being subjected to such unlawful workplace discrimination, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

New Jersey employment attorney, Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout the state, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Southern, Central, Western and Northern NJ to meet with clients.



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