Friday, August 26, 2016

I Want to Quit My Job and Get Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania

If I Resign, Will I Be Eligible for Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation?

This is the second installment in a series I am writing which I referred to in my introductory Post as my Pennsylvania Unemployment Handbook for Claimant Employees. The idea is to provide a soup to nuts overview on Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Law, and to give some guidance on common issues that Pennsylvania workers deal with on a regular basis. 

You Are Not Alone!
You Are Not Alone – 40% of All Job Separations Are the Result of Voluntary Resignations

Without question, many employees are unhappy in their current jobs, and would like to get a fresh start.  Indeed, this has long been the case.  Historically, more than 40% of all job separations in the United States are the result of voluntary resignations!

Getting Out of a Dead End Job Easier
if You Can Qualify for Unemployment
However, most of us cannot simply afford to quit our jobs without having some sort of income coming in while we seek out that better tomorrow.  Thus, since Pennsylvania’s unemployment law is pretty generous – qualified employees are entitled to weekly unemployment benefits that equal approximately 1% of their annual earnings (up to the $573 per week maximum) – being able to qualify for such benefits after resigning is quite a blessing. 

What Do I Need to Do to Qualify for Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania if I Quit my Job?

That said, it is very hard to win unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania if you voluntarily quit.  In many situations, particularly those where it is the work environment that makes you feel the need to quit, there are steps you need to take before you can meet the standard for qualification – that you had a necessitous and compelling reason to quit.

The key to remember – in most situations - is that you have to try and keep your job before you quit.

I Resigned Because of a Hostile, Toxic Work Environment and Terrible Working Conditions and Now My Employer is Fighting my Pennsylvania Unemployment Claim

Your former employer will almost always fight your unemployment claim if you quit. That’s just the way it is.

If the reason you resigned had nothing to do with work, the company will have little say over whether you are eligible for benefits.

However, if you are quitting because of something that is ostensibly within the company’s control, the law says you must first give your employer a chance to address and resolve whatever issues are leading you towards resignation if you are to have any hope of getting benefits.  If you do not do that, the company will likely be able to secure a denial of your claim.


Section 402(b) of the Law provides that an employee shall be ineligible for compensation for any week “[i]n which his unemployment is due to voluntarily leaving work without cause of a necessitous and compelling nature ….”  43 P.S. §802(b).  An employee who claims to have left employment for a necessitous and compelling reason bears the burden of proof.  To meet her burden of proof, an employee must show that: (1) circumstances existed that produced real and substantial pressure to terminate employment; (2) such circumstances would compel a reasonable person to act in the same manner; (3) the claimant acted with ordinary common sense; and, (4) the claimant made a reasonable effort to preserve her employment.

I Resigned from My Job to Help Care for a Family Member Who Was Ill, Will I Qualify for Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation?

If the circumstances that are causing you to consider quitting are related to a situation at home involving the health and welfare of a loved one, or a serious medical condition completely unrelated to your job, there is usually very little your employer can do to help you remain employed.  In such cases, qualifying for benefits is realistic. Here is what Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court said about domestic situations in 2015:

Our Supreme Court reasoned that when applying the standard a claimant must meet to be eligible for benefits when she voluntarily left employment for a domestic cause, “[a] worker’s physical and mental condition, [her] personal and family problems, the authoritative demand of legal duties- these are circumstances that exert pressure upon him and imperiously call for decision and action.” In certain circumstances, courts thus acknowledge that decisions a claimant makes, which are wrought with emotion and involve obligations to family or oneself, while a claimant’s choice, are not truly voluntary.  Beachem v. UCBR, 760 A.2d 68 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000) (holding that claimant who quit to return to another state to care for his emotionally disturbed child was eligible for benefits); Miksic v. UCBR (Pa. Cmwlth., No. 2399 C.D. 2013, filed Oct. 15, 2014) (unreported) (holding that claimant who resigned to care for dying mother proved compelling reason to quit).

“When therefore the pressure of real not imaginary, substantial not trifling, reasonable not whimsical, circumstances compel the decision to leave employment, the decision is voluntary in the sense that the worker has willed it, but involuntary because outward pressures have compelled it.” Beachem, 760 A.2d at 71. This Court recognizes that domestic circumstances may constitute a necessitous and compelling cause for leaving employment.  See Fiedler v. UCBR, 18 A.3d 459 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011) (reasoning that claimant’s emotional distress over the loss of his son constituted compelling reasons to return home to be reunited with his family); Beachem.  Under such circumstances, we held a claimant is entitled to benefits.

Will I be Denied Unemployment Compensation Because I Quit Working in Pennsylvania?
Mean Bosses = Tough Days at Work

If you are considering quitting because of a work situation, and want to have a legitimate shot at getting unemployment benefits then, prior to resigning, you need to put your employer on notice, in writing (e-Mail works, send to HR and your boss) as to what is its about your working conditions (mistreatment by boss or co-worker, schedule, certain job duties, location of job site, etc.) that are causing you to feel that you must quit unless they are changed.

Then, wait for the company to respond and, if it does not resolve your issue you may have a chance at securing unemployment compensation of you thereafter resign.

I Have to Quit My Job for Health Reasons – Will I Qualify for Pennsylvania Unemployment if I Submit my Resignation?

What I just wrote is a real mouthful – and an extremely difficult undertaking for the average employee.  Often, by the time an employee reaches the stage where he/she feels like a resignation is the only choice, his/her health is compromised, and a quit occurs out of the blue when confronted with the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

This Employee Cannot Handle Even One More Straw!
In addition, I have found that once an individual gets it in his/her mind to quit, they do not want to ask the company to fix the problem because they are afraid that is they do the company will respond and fix the problem! Unfortunately, the law is not sympathetic to employee in such situations.

As the following passage from a 2014 Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court opinion makes clear, such quit cases are the most difficult to win:

Health problems can constitute a necessitous and compelling reason to leave employment.  Genetin v. UCBR, 499 Pa. 125, 128, (1982)…To establish health problems as a necessitous and compelling reason for leaving employment, the claimant must: (i) offer competent testimony that adequate health reasons existed to justify the voluntary termination; (ii) have adequately informed the employer of the health reasons for leaving employment; and (3) be available to work if reasonable accommodations can be made…Failure to meet any one of these requirements bars a claim for unemployment compensation.  Id.

Here, Claimant did not show that she left her employment for medical reasons.  The Board found that Claimant voluntarily quit her employment because she felt she was being treated unfairly.  That finding is supported by the record.  Claimant gave scant testimony concerning the nature or severity of her medical problems; she stated only that she had sleep apnea and insomnia, and these conditions were the cause of her lateness.  However, she also stated that she left her employment not because of her medical problems but because she was tired of being threatened with dismissal due to excessive tardiness, and because she could not believe that Ms. Petorak would accept the word of another employee over Claimant’s word on the subject of her tardiness. …

Claimant never gave Employer an adequate opportunity to offer accommodations that could permit her to continue working, and made it clear that she was no longer available to work. Sufficient notice to the employer requires that the claimant inform the employer of the nature of the health problems prior to leaving employment so that the employer can attempt to accommodate the claimant’s health issues.

My Company Changed my Work Hours, Duties and Reduced my Pay, Can I Quit and Get Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania?

There is no simple answer to this question, but here is what the Commonwealth Court said on the issue in a 2015 decision:

While we recognize that cause of a necessitous and compelling nature may exist where an employer has instituted an unreasonable, unilateral change in the employment agreement, mere dissatisfaction with reasonable modifications in working conditions is not considered good cause for a voluntary quit.  Kistler v. UCBR, 416 A.2d 594, 597 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980).  It is up to the claimant to establish that the change was so unreasonable and so burdensome that a reasonable person under like circumstances would have been compelled to quit.  Unangst v. UCBR, 690 A.2d 1305, 1307-08 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1997).  Where an employer modifies the method by which it pays its employees, such as altering the basis for commissions, necessitous and compelling cause for a voluntary quit may be established.  #1 Cochran, Inc. v. UCBR, 579 A.2d 1386, 1390 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1990).  While a significant reduction in pay may constitute necessitous and compelling cause, Naylon v. UCBR, 477 A.2d 912, 914 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984), there is no talismanic percentage figure to denote a sufficiently substantial reduction in pay from one that is not.  Each case must be decided on its own circumstances.  Ship Inn, Inc. v. UCBR, 412 A.2d 913, 915 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980).
 
Should I Resign or Let the Company Fire Me if I Want Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania?

As the above passages hopefully make clear, winning a quit case under Pennsylvania law is difficult, and it is very difficult to predict the outcome in any given situation. That is why it may be a good idea to contact an attorney with knowledge about Pennsylvania Unemployment Law before quitting. 

We Help Workers Throughout Pennsylvania
However, if you believe that the company is trying to get you to quit, and cannot afford to seek counsel, the best plan may be to hang in there, do your job and let them fire you.

However, if you believe that your health is at serious risk because of your job, see your doctor and ask him/her to write a note stating that it is their medical opinion that you need to quit your job in order to maintain your health. Present that to your employer on the way out the door, and you may be able to collect benefits.

If You Have to Resign on Doctor's Orders,
You Have a Reasonable Good Chance...
Check out my Pennsylvania Unemployment Handbook post, "How Do I Complete an Application for Unemployment Compensation Benefits in Pennsylvania – Did I Resign or Was I Fired?"


Helping Pennsylvania Workers With FMLA Issues Since 1991

Philadelphia Area Unemployment Attorney Helping Employees With Ongoing Work Problems and Win Referee Hearings

John A. Gallagher is an employment lawyer who represents claimants in Pennsylvania. 

John typically represents workers who need an employment lawyer throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, including those working in Philadelphia County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Bucks County, Chester County, Berks County and Lancaster County.

Pennsylvania Unemployment Lawyer Provides Free Telephone Consultations and Representation at Unemployment Referee Hearings

If you believe you require guidance concerning a Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation issue, and reside in or near Southeastern Pennsylvania, feel free to send me an e-Mail or give me a call.  I have represented workers who live or are employed in Philadelphia, Reading, Bethlehem, Lancaster,  Levittown,  Abington, Allentown, Auburn, Ambler, Ardmore, Aston, Audubon, Avondale,  Bala Cynwyd, Bensalem, Berwyn, Bethlehem, Bird In Hand, Birdsboro, Birmingham, Boothwyn, Bowmansville, Boyertown, Bridgeport, Bristol,  Brookhaven, Broomall,  Brownfield,  Bryn Athyn, Bryn Mawr, Buckingham,  Burlington, Caln, Chadds Ford, Chalfont, Charlestown, Cheltenham,  Chester Springs, Chester, Chester Heights,  Cheyney, Coatesville, Collegeville, Concord, Concordville, Conshohocken, Coventry, Cranberry,  Crum Lynne,  Darby, Daylesford, Devault,  Devon, Douglassville, Downingtown, Doylestown, Dresher,  Drexel Hill,  Dublin, Eagleville, East Bradford, East Brandywine, East Coventry, East Fallowfield, King of Prussia, Springfield, Reading, Bristol or Malvern.

Need an Experienced Lawyer to Help You With an Unemployment Hearing Issue?

Click Here if you have questions about any aspect of employment law, from wrongful termination, to wage and overtime claims, to discrimination and retaliation laws, to Family and Medical Leave

Click Here if you have questions about any aspect of Pennsylvania Unemployment Law, from willful misconduct, to voluntary quit, to Referee Hearings, to severance issues

Click Here to e-mail John directly.

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