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Employee Who Loses Job While In Jail Held Ineligible For New Jersey Unemployment Benefits

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently held that a claimant who was terminated because she was unable to work for a period of less than two weeks due to being incarcerated on criminal charges is not eligible to receive New Jersey unemployment benefits.

In the matter of Crystal Mandall v. Board of Review Department of Labor, NJ Team Dental Center, PA, the claimant was employed as a dental assistant with New Jersey Team Dental Center of Old Bridge, New Jersey, from November, 2007 until her termination in April, 2010. On April 20, 2010, Ms. Mandall was arrested on several criminal charges that caused her to become incarcerated until May 1, 2010.
While in jail, Ms. Mandall kept in touch with her employer and promised them that she would return to work as soon as she was released from jail. When she was released from jail on May 1, 2010, Ms. Mandall sent a text message to her employer advising them of her release and that she would return to work on the next work day. In response to the text message, NJ Team Dental Center advised Ms. Mandall that her position had been filled as a result of her being unable to come to work for almost two weeks.

On May 23, 2010, Ms. Mandall applied for unemployment benefits. Ms. Mandall’s claim for New Jersey unemployment benefits was denied because the New Jersey Department of Labor found that she had left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. Ms. Mandall appealed the decision, but the Appeal Tribunal and the Board of Review both affirmed the Deputy’s initial determination disqualifying her from receiving New Jersey unemployment benefits.

In affirming the decision to disqualify Ms. Mandall from receiving New Jersey unemployment benefits, the Appellate Division cited N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) of the New Jersey Unemployment Benefits Law, which reads that a claimant who leaves work “voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work” will be disqualified from receiving New Jersey unemployment benefits. The Appellate court noted in their decision that the New Jersey Unemployment Benefits law was amended in 1961 to require that “good cause” must be attributable to the work. The Appellate court stated that the fact Ms. Mandall lost her job due because she was incarcerated and was unable to make bail had no relationship to her work as a dental assistant. As a result of these facts, the Appellate Division affirmed the Department of Labor’s decision to disqualify Ms. Mandall from receiving New Jersey unemployment benefits.

As a result of the decision, the Appellate court required Ms. Mandall to repay the New Jersey Department of Labor in the amount of unemployment benefits she received because she was held not to be entitled to receive them. The Appellate Division cited to N.J.S.A. 43:21-16(d) of the New Jersey Unemployment benefits law which requires a person who has received unemployment benefits when not entitled to do so is obligated to repay them even if he or she received the unemployment benefits in good faith.