Written by Ravi Sattiraju on March 10, 2017
The answer to this question, like so many other legal questions, is “depends”. Individuals who quit their jobs are generally disqualified from collecting unemployment benefits under the Unemployment Compensation Law, N.J.S.A. 43:21-1 to -24.4 (the “UCL”), if they “left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work”. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). What constitutes “good cause attributable to such work”? That is not an easy question to answer.
The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s (the “NJDOLWD”) regulations that implement the UCL define that phrase to mean “a reason related directly to the individual’s employment, which was so compelling as to give the individual no choice but to leave the employment.” N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(b). “The burden of proof is on the claimant to establish good cause attributable to such work for leaving.” N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(c). The New Jersey Supreme Court employs the following general standard in deciding whether a voluntary quit is for “good cause attributable to such work” under the UCL:
“good cause” is “cause sufficient to justify an employee’s voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed” … The test of “ordinary common sense and prudence” must be utilized to determine whether an employee’s decision to leave work constitutes good cause … Such cause “must be compelled by real, substantial and reasonable circumstances not imaginary, trifling and whimsical ones.” … A claimant has the “responsibility to do whatever is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed.”
Brady v. Board of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 214 (1997) (internal and external citations omitted).
What is Good Cause
This can be a difficult standard to meet. For example, the NJDOLWD’s regulations specifically list the following reasons that will not constitute good cause unless other compelling circumstances are present:
- Lack of transportation;
- Care of children or other relatives;
- School attendance;
- Lack of housing;
- Relocating to another area for personal reasons;
- Relocating to another area to accompany a spouse, a civil union partner, or other relatives;
- Voluntary retirement;
- To accept other work; or
Good cause does exist if an individual “leaves work because of a disability which has a work-connected origin … provided there was no other suitable work available which the individual could have performed within the limits of the disability” or when an individual “leaves a job due to a physical and/or mental condition or state of health which does not have a work-connected origin but is aggravated by working conditions … provided there was no other suitable work available which the individual could have performed within the limits of the disability. N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.3(a)-(b).
Good cause can also exist if a claimant establishes that his or her “working conditions are so unsafe, unhealthful, or dangerous as to constitute good cause attributable to such work.” N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.4. For example, it has been held that “threats of physical violence directed to an employee from which he may reasonably conclude that his personal safety is endangered thereby inculcating a genuine fear in the employee is an abnormal working condition. As such, it constitutes good cause for that employee to voluntarily leave his employment.” Condo v. Bd. of Review, 158 N.J. Super. 172, 175 (App. Div. 1978).
Courts have also found “good cause” where a clear public policy reason is implicated. See e.g. Casciano v. Board of Review, 300 N.J. Super. 570, 577 (App. Div. 1997) (“public policy nevertheless requires that petitioner’s legitimate distress when required by his employer to act illegally or immorally be recognized as good cause for leaving”).
As you can see, it can be difficult to prove that your reasons for quitting your job should not disqualify you for unemployment benefits. “Good cause” is an amorphous term and you may need an experienced employment attorney to help you prove your case. If you are scheduled for a telephonic hearing before the NJDOLWD’s Appeal Tribunal for a hearing regarding the reasons why you quit your job, immediately contact the attorneys at The Sattiraju Law Firm, P.C. in Princeton, New Jersey at (609) 722-7039 for a free consultation. We fight for workers’ justice under a litany of employee-rights statutes including the Unemployment Compensation Law.