Can I Get Unemployment Benefits if I Leave One Job For Another?
September 22, 2017
Jennifer Vorih, Esq., Ty Hyderally, Esq., and Chantal Guerriero
It used to be that New Jersey employees who left work voluntarily and without good cause were disqualified from the possibility of receiving unemployment benefits, unless they subsequently worked at least eight weeks at a new job and earned at least ten times their weekly benefit rate. A recent amendment has added welcome protection to New Jersey employees who leave their jobs voluntarily, by creating an exception for employees who leave work voluntarily to accept work with another employer and start their new job within seven days of leaving their previous employer (and then become unemployed through no fault of their own). N.J.S.A 43:31-5(a). However, the law remains that if a New Jersey employee voluntarily leaves their job, and will commence their new job more than seven days after quitting their old job, they are disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
This presented a challenging situation in a recent New Jersey case where an employee left her job in order to start a new job, but her offer was rescinded prior to her actually beginning work. Patricia J. McClain v. Board of Review Department of Labor, 2017 N.J. Super. LEXIS 128. The Appellate Division examined whether such an employee still qualified for unemployment benefits, and ultimately decided that she did. Id.
In the case, Patricia J. McClain (“McClain”), began working as a teacher for Learning Edge Academy in January 2013. On October 12, 2015, McClain accepted a full-time offer at another school, Kids Choice Academy, and immediately submitted a letter of resignation to her current employer, Learning Edge Academy. However, the next day, McClain’s new employer rescinded its offer because the employee that McClain was due to replace decided to return to work after all. Meanwhile, McClain’s former employer had accepted her resignation, so McClain found herself unemployed and in need of unemployment benefits. McClain accordingly applied for unemployment benefits, but was denied, which prompted her to appeal. The Appeal Tribunal affirmed the denial, because, it stated, McClain was precluded from qualifying for such benefits, as she had not actually commenced her new job within seven days of resigning from her previous job.
On appeal, the Appellate Division reviewed the Appeal Tribunal’s agency decision, and in doing so reviewed the controlling statute, N.J.S.A 43:31-5(a). The relevant part of the statute exempts from disqualification for unemployment benefits an employee who:
“voluntarily leaves work with one employer to accept from another employer employment which commences not more than seven days after the individual leaves employment with the first employer.” Id.
The Court held that the statute did not require an employee to actually commence their job in order to be exempt from disqualification of unemployment benefits. In looking at the plain language of the statute, the Court found that the law only requires only that the employee “leave work with the first employer ‘to accept’ employment with the second employer which commences within the seven-day period.” Patricia J. McClain v. Board of Review Department of Labor, 2017 N.J. Super. LEXIS 128. Further, the Court reasoned that if the legislature had actually intended that the employee must actually begin their new job within seven days of leaving her previous one, the legislature would have expressly included the requirement in the language of the statute.
This holding provides clarification for those individuals who accept employment which is scheduled to begin within one week, but do not actually begin their new jobs within one week of voluntarily leaving their previous jobs. It also provides for a promising, employee-friendly trend towards interpreting unemployment benefits in New Jersey, in that the Court decided that the amended statute does not require that employees who voluntarily leave their jobs must actually commence their new jobs within one week in order to qualify for unemployment benefits.
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