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Justifiable Reasons For Losing Your Job
Laid off
This claim is the easiest to handle. If you are laid off because business is slow and there was no work for you, you will receive benefits.

Quit for work-related reason
While you won't receive unemployment benefits if you voluntarily leave your job without a good reason for doing so, if you have a good reason, or as most states say, a "good cause" for leaving, you may still be eligible. The majority of states require that the good cause have something to do with your work. Some states allow you to quit for a personal reason as well.

The term "good cause" may conjure up several meanings for you. In this context, however, it has a fairly precise, legal meaning. Typically, it refers to a serious and compelling problem that you've tried to work out with your employer but have been unable to solve. For example, you've talked with your employer about a leave of absence or a change in your work conditions because the ever-present cigarette smoke in the office is aggravating your asthma, but your employer hasn't responded. Or, you've asked whether there are other jobs available within the company because staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day is giving you migraine headaches, but your employer hasn't responded. In each of these examples, the work-related problem keeps you from working, even though you'd like to do your job.

"Good cause" reasons for leaving your job include:
  • Illegal job requests: Your employer asks you to perform an illegal act (e.g., stealing trade secrets from a competitor, participating in a price-fixing scheme). This allegation is difficult to prove because it's most often your word against your employer's. If you find yourself in this position, find, if you can, evidence that supports your story such as a memo, other coworkers whom your employer asked to do the same thing, or someone who might have overheard the request.

  • Illegal working conditions: If you are asked to work in conditions that threaten your health and safety, you may have a good cause to leave. Ideally, before you quit your job, you told your employer about the condition. If so, try to remember the date you told your employer because the unemployment agent who interviews you should know this. Document the health risk by going to see a doctor. If the doctor concludes that your work conditions are harming your health, ask the doctor to put this conclusion in writing.

    Where an injury or illness is severe enough to compel you to leave work, that same physical condition may also prevent you from being "able and available" for work. You need to show that although your work conditions caused or aggravated your illness, you are still able to do other work. If you are so injured or ill that you cannot do any work, you may be compensated through workers' compensation or disability insurance.

  • Broken promises: If you took a job because the employer promised more pay, a promotion or a lateral move, and the promise never materializes, you may have good cause to voluntarily quit your job and still receive benefits. Ideally, your employer made this promise in writing; otherwise, it's your word against your employer's. At your interview with the unemployment agent, be ready to explain the promise, how it influenced your decision to work there, how it was broken, and how you were injured by the broken promise.

  • Major changes in your job: Major changes in your job, such as duties, wages, hours, conditions or transportation, may give you good cause to voluntarily quit. How drastic the change needs to be will vary from state to state. For example, in Arizona and Connecticut, transportation difficulties are a good reason for quitting a job. In North Carolina, a unilateral and permanent reduction in full time work hours of more than 20 percent or a reduction in pay of more than 15 percent is a good cause for leaving a job.
Personal reasons for leaving
As noted earlier, many states grant benefits even if you quit for a personal reason unrelated to work. Those states include: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and the dependencies of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Other states will give you benefits if you become ill or if your personal reason is compelling. So even if your state is not listed here, file anyway because you may be able to argue that your personal situation fits one of the exceptions in your state.

Some examples of possibly compelling personal reasons include:
  • Moving because of spouse: If your spouse or soon-to-be spouse is offered a new job in a different city and you have to quit your job to stay together, your state may accept this reason. Before you quit, check to see whether your employer has an office in the new city. If so, ask about being transferred.

  • Caring for a relative or child: You may have a good cause for leaving your work if a family member becomes sick and there is no one else to care for him or her. Before you quit, ask that your employer grant you a leave of absence from your job. If your employer agrees, get the agreement in writing. (Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers are required to give you at least 12 weeks unpaid leave to care for yourself or your family in certain circumstances. See the Benefits section for more information.) In most states, if you are on leave, you cannot collect unemployment benefits. If your employer did not let you take leave, be ready to show this to the unemployment agent.

  • Retirement: If you leave your job because of the compulsory retirement provisions of a pension plan, retirement program, collective bargaining contract or an employer policy, a majority of states will give you benefits on the theory that your leaving is involuntary.

  • Pregnancy: Most states deny you benefits if you leave work because of pregnancy. However, if you leave based on your doctor's advice and are able and available to do other kinds of work, many states will give you benefits. The Department of Labor is currently circulating a proposed rule that would allow states more flexibility in this area.

  • Religion: If your work violates your religious beliefs, you may have good cause to quit--but only if were unaware when you first took the job that it would violate your religion.

  • Illness: Some states will give you unemployment benefits if you become ill because of nonoccupational disabilities. They include: New York, California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Typically, these states require you to submit a doctor's medical file, inform your employer, ask for a leave of absence, and return to your job when you are better. You may also be able to collect welfare benefits, depending on your income level, as well as food stamps.

    The Unemployment Survival Handbook, Nina Schuyler
    Copyright © 2000 Allworth Press

Who Is Eligible For Unemployment Benefits?
Leaving Your Job Without A Good Reason
Unemployment Eligibility: Able And Available For Work
Required Hours And Wages For Unemployment Benefits

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A word of caution: If your employer tells you that he or she will have to lay you off soon because business is slow, don't voluntarily quit. It's much easier to get benefits if you wait for your employer to lay you off. Even if he or she threatens to fire you, don't resign. If you are fired, it's up to your employer to jump through hoops and show that he or she fired you because of misconduct. If your employer doesn't convince the unemployment office, you'll receive your benefits. But if you quit your job, it is up to you to establish good cause.
The Unemployment Survival Handbook, Nina Schuyler, Copyright © 2000 Allworth Press

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