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Being Told of Likely Termination Is Not Considered Good Cause to Quit and Receive New Jersey Unemployment Benefits

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently affirmed the Board of Review’s decision denying claimant, Ms. Nzinga Jackson, New Jersey unemployment benefits, finding she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. In Ms. Jackson’s initial hearing, the Deputy Director found that Ms. Jackson’s resignation from her position because her union representative told her she would be laid off from work did not constitute voluntarily leaving for good cause attributable to the work. Ms. Jackson appealed the Deputy’s determination. The Appeal Tribunal and subsequently the Board of Review affirmed the Deputy’s decision.

In the case, Jackson v. Board of Review, Ms. Jackson worked for Verizon New Jersey, Inc. (“Verizon”) from February 25, 2008 through September 4, 2010 as a customer service representative. Ms. Jackson accepted a voluntary severance package when her union representative informed her that she would most likely be laid off in the future because of her lack of seniority. Based on that information, Ms. Jackson accepted the severance package and resigned. Ms. Jackson did not confirm that she was going to be laid off with Human Resources or any other Verizon representative. In fact, Verizon did not lay off any employees because an “overwhelming” number of employees voluntary accepted the separation package.

Affirming the Deputy’s initial determination denying Ms. Jackson’s benefits, the Appeal Tribunal rejected Ms. Jackson’s argument that she did not leave work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. The Appeal Tribunal stated that acceptance of a voluntary severance package is a valid reason for leaving the job, however it is a personal reason and is not connected to the work itself. During the appeal hearing, the customer service manager testified that Ms. Jackson was not under any direct threat of being laid off if she did not accept the package and continuing work was still available at the time she resigned. Ms. Jackson alleged that she would have been laid off in May 2011, approximately nine (9) months after her voluntary resignation.

In reviewing this decision the Appellate Division stated that “in the context of voluntary early resignation, an employee will not be found to have left for good cause attributable to the work unless the employee’s ‘subjective fear [of imminent layoff] was based upon definitive objective facts . . . to buttress [the] belief that [her] job [ ] would actually be eliminated in the impending work reduction,’ and (2) that [the] claimant [ ] would suffer substantial economic loss.'” An imminent lay off is defined as one in which the individual will be separated within 60 days. N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.5. The Court further stated that the mere threat or possibility of a layoff is an insufficient basis to trigger the right to receive unemployment benefits.

The Court concluded that Jackson’s argument that she was effectively terminated was not supported by the factual record. Although she was told by her union representative that she would most likely be laid off in the future, the Court found that she was never threatened with an imminent termination and she instead, made a personal decision to voluntarily leave work to secure the beneficial early resignation package. An employee who leaves work for personal reasons is deemed to have left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. Based on that finding, the Appellate Division affirmed the determination disqualifying Ms. Jackson for unemployment compensation benefits.