Wednesday, October 12, 2011

If You Quit For Compelling Reason You May Still Get Unemployment Benefits

Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation law holds that when a worker leaves her job because she is forced to do so by special circumstances or because of legal or family obligations, her leaving is voluntary but with good cause, and under the Unemployment Compensation Act she is entitled to benefits.

The old case of Pittsburgh Pipe & Coupling Co. v. Unemployment Compensation Board, 165 A.2d 374 (Pa. 1960) outlines this principle of PA Unemployment Compensation. From 1951 to December, 1957, Charles P. Savage was employed as a machine operator at the plant of the Pittsburgh Pipe and Coupling Company in Allison Park. His home was 60 miles away. To avoid a 120-mile round trip every day, he stayed with his sister in Gibsonia. Every weekend he returned to his wife and four children.

On January 2, 1958, Savage notified his employer that his wife had suffered a disabling spinal injury and for that reason he was compelled to stay home and take care of her and the children. His employer recommended he take a three-month leave of absence. Savage refused to accept this offer and made a claim for unemployment compensation. The Bureau of Employment Security found that he was entitled to unemployment compensation benefits. The company appealed to the unemployment compensation referee who reversed the board on the basis that the claimant had not terminated his employment for reasons of a necessitous and compelling nature as specified in Section 402(b) of the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law.  The claimant appealed to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review which reversed the referee, reinstating compensation. The company appealed and the Superior Court upheld the award. The Supreme Court of PA then  also upheld the decision.

The Supreme Court reasoned that pressure of necessity, of legal duty, or family obligations, or other overpowering circumstances and an employee’s understandable response transforms what would normally be a voluntary unemployment into involuntary unemployment and allows the worker to seek unemployment compensation benefits.

PA Unemployment Compensation law provides that the employee in certain situations may obtain the benefits of the Unemployment Compensation Act, provided the facts demonstrate that he is kept away from his job for reasons of a "necessitous and compelling nature." In determining whether such facts exist, the test is not whether the claimant has taken himself out of the scope of the Act, but whether the Act specifically excludes him from its provisions. This is because the Unemployment Compensation Act is intended to be read broadly and liberally toward granting workers benefits.

The bottom line is that even if you leave your job voluntarily (i.e. you are not fired or laid off) you may still be entitled to unemployment compensation benefits if you have a compelling personal reason for doing so. This can be a tricky issue to establish, however. If your employer contests your application for benefits, you may want to contact an attorney to help advocate on your behalf.

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