Can Employees Collect Unemployment When They Quit a Job?

In many cases, when employees quit, they give up the right to collect unemployment compensation.

And employees who leave voluntarily will often be denied benefits if they file.

However, it’s worthwhile to speak to an employment attorney.

Under Pennsylvania employment law, in many cases, those former employees still have the right to collect benefits – even if their claims are initially denied.

Here are a few cases in which employees who resign may qualify for benefits:

When they’re given the choice to quit voluntarily or be fired.

Some companies try to dodge paying unemployment by giving employees a choice — quit now or be fired. Employees, wanting to avoid damage to their reputation from being fired, may agree and resign.

However, employees who are forced to resign, are often still eligible to receive benefits, depending on the circumstances. In many cases, forced resignation is treated similarly to a layoff.

When they’re offered an early retirement package to reduce layoffs.

When there’s a pending layoff, some companies offer retirement packages to senior employees who voluntarily leave. That’s seen as a way to reduce the harm of necessary reductions in force, as it makes room for younger employees to stay in their jobs.

In the past, PA courts ruled that accepting a retirement package did preclude employees from collecting benefits. However, in a recent case, the PA Supreme Court overruled more than 30 years of precedent by allow a retiree to collect benefits.

In Diehl v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, decided December 28, 2012, a 63 year-old employee who’d worked for the company for 23 years, accepted a retirement package.

The company had announced it would lay off 20 employees for business reasons, but that number could be reduced if older employees took early retirement.

As part of the package, Harold Diehl, would be given three years of full health benefits, plus two years of partial coverage. He accepted, with the assumption that he would also be eligible for unemployment.

However, the Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits denied his claim, saying he had voluntarily retired.

Diehl appealed, and eventually won his case, when the state Supreme Court ruled he had, in effect, been laid off from his job.

When they have “necessitous and compelling” circumstances to leave

An employee may receive unemployment compensation where the employee has necessitous and compelling circumstances to leave.  The employee has the burden of showing “necessitous and compelling” circumstances. 

This might occur when the employee suffers a severe medical condition which disables the individual from working in his or her former position.  However, a disability may not alone suffice – indeed, the disability itself may prevent an employee from recovering unemployment compensation.  The employee must show that he or she is still able and available to work in other jobs which are ascertainable in his or her general vicinity. 

Other necessitous and compelling circumstances include: (a) when an employer makes significant adverse changes to the employee’s working conditions or benefits, (b) when they must relocate to follow a spouse, or (c) when a boss has significantly harassed or bullied a worker and the employer fails to address the harassment or bullying after being given an opportunity to do so. 

This last example is commonly cited as a reason employees want to quit but employees should be cautioned that some level of harassment and/or bullying is not always sufficient.  Employees should contact an attorney before they quit under these circumstances.   

Proving “necessitous and compelling” circumstances is not an easy task and may require documentation.  Employees should consult with an experienced employment lawyer before an attempt to represent his or her self at an unemployment compensation hearing.    Contact Hennessy Law at 484-875-3111 for a consultation.

Written by

Brendan D. Hennessy, Esquire is an experienced attorney and provides an assortment of legal services, focusing in the area of Employment Law.
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