Most people have no idea to what they are entitled when and if they quit their job. AboutUnemployment.org demystifies the rules relating to benefit entitlement upon employee-initiated termination in their article: Can You Collect Unemployment If You Quit?.
If you are laid off or made redundant, you are eligible for unemployment benefits. In the majority of cases, you are also entitled to benefits if you were fired, as long as it was not for gross misconduct. But when you quit your job, eligibility hinges on whether or not there was good cause.
First and foremost, do not confuse having a good reason to leave with having good cause in the eyes of the law. For example, you might decide to leave because you find the job boring or there are limited opportunities for promotion. While these may be perfectly good reasons to leave, they do not constitute good cause from a legal perspective.
If you quit without good cause, then you are not eligible for unemployment benefits. If you quit with good cause, then you may be entitled to receive benefits. While the definition of good cause varies according to each state’s unemployment insurance office definition, there are guidelines worth knowing about.
The following is a summary of what are generally deemed good cause reasons for quitting:
- Constructive dismissal — If you can demonstrate that your work situation had become impossible such that you felt forced to quit, then most states will allow you to collect unemployment benefits. Typical examples of constructive dismissal include situations where you are subject to bullying, harassment, dangerous working conditions or pressure from a manager to commit illegal acts. In the eyes of the law, constructive dismissal is tantamount to wrongful termination as opposed to voluntarily quitting.
- Medical problems — In most states, if an employee is forced to quit because they become ill, injured or disabled, they will be eligible to claim unemployment benefits. In some states, there is the stipulation that the medical condition or disability has to be directly linked to the job, while others simply evaluate whether the condition in itself provides good cause for quitting.
- Quitting for another job — If you leave your job for another, then most states consider that to be good cause, but only if it was for a reasonably certain opportunity. If you left on the basis of a firm job offer that you have in writing, but it did not work out, then you should be entitled to claim. However, you will generally not be eligible if you quit to search for another job without a firm employment offer in hand.
- Family emergency — If you are forced to leave your job to look after a family member who is seriously ill or requires long term care, then you may be eligible to claim. It depends on the seriousness of the condition, how close a family member it is, and whether there were other care options that could have been taken. Exact requirements are different from one state to the next, so contact your state insurance office to be sure.
- Domestic violence — If you are forced to quit work for reasons relating to being a victim of domestic violence, then most states will rule that you are eligible to collect unemployment benefits.
- Joining your spouse — If your spouse has been offered a new job in a distant location or is a member of the military and has been re-posted, then you might quit your job to join him or her. Most states will consider this to be good cause.
If in doubt: Ask!
The above are guidelines, and vary from state to state. In some cases you might find you are eligible only after an initial disqualification period. In all cases, it is best to contact your state employment insurance office to discuss your specific circumstances.
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