New Jersey employees who lose their jobs, whether they are fired or laid off, usually want to receive unemployment compensation for the time they are searching for a new job. Applying and being approved for benefits is only one part of the process, though. Most people are aware that, in order to collect unemployment benefits, they have to actively seek work and call in every two weeks (or report online weekly), and certify that they have done so. Additionally, you must certify that you were available and able to work each day of the reporting period.
Additionally, to remain eligible to receive unemployment benefits, you cannot refuse any offer of suitable work. New Jersey employees may be concerned that this means that they have to take any job which is offered to them. This is not the case. The important question is whether a job is “suitable.” While unemployed individuals cannot collect benefits while unreasonably rejecting jobs which are similar to the jobs they lost, they are also not forced to accept jobs which differ significantly from the jobs they lost. So, you cannot be too picky, but you do not have to take just any old job.
The question of whether a job is “suitable” for you depends on a number of factors, such as how far the job is from your home, whether the pay is similar to what you received at your former position, and whether you have the skills and experience required for the new job.
But after a period of time, the definition of “suitable” will change. If you remain unemployed for an extended period, even though you have been able to work, available to work, actively sought work, and not rejected offers of suitable work, New Jersey requires you to lower your expectations, and accept offers of work which are less suitable than what you initially sought. This is known as the “lower sights doctrine,” and it means that jobs which are less ideal than those which were suitable at the beginning of your job search, become suitable – even if they are a little farther away from your home, or pay even less, or do not match your skill set so well as those jobs which were considered suitable for you just a few months earlier.
Employees who sue their former employers for unlawful termination are similarly obliged to look for, be available for, and accept suitable work, to make a successful claim that the employers owe them for lost wages. Whether, when, and how the lower sights doctrine is to be applied in that context is determined on a case by case basis. Courts have held both that some workers should be penalized after a period of three years of unemployment, and that other employees should have immediately looked for work outside their field, since no work was available in that field, due to a strike. Since the lower sights doctrine is very fact-intensive, courts can also take into account issues such as family status, in determining what employment is “suitable.” Thus, it may be reasonable for someone without children to have to accept a job which requires a longer commute, while that same added commute time might make a job unsuitable for a parent of young children.
So, New Jersey employees who lose their jobs through no fault of their own don’t have to take “any old job,” in order to collect unemployment benefits. But they do have to make sure their expectations are reasonable, in light of their circumstances. And they need to adjust those expectations when their circumstances change, so that they do not reject any suitable jobs.
By Jennifer Vorih, Esq. and Ty Hyderally, Esq.