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Unemployment Benefits for Job Switchers-the New Jersey Supreme Court Will Now Weigh In

The New Jersey Supreme Court will soon decide whether someone who leaves a job for another job that never commences will still be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Under New Jersey Unemployment Benefits law, an individual is disqualified for unemployment benefits if he or she has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work.  N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).  In 2015, due to increased political pressure to fix what was commonly referred to as the “Black Hole” of New Jersey unemployment law, the New Jersey legislature specifically amended N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) to assure that employees are no longer found to be ineligible for leaving one job for an equal or better job, but lose the subsequent job prior to the expiration of the 8 week employment requirement.  Specifically, the Legislature stated that there will not be a disqualification if the individual “voluntarily leaves work with one employer to accept from another employer employment which commences not more than seven days after the individual leaves employment with the first employer, if the employment with the second employer has weekly hours or pay not less than the hours or pay of the employment of the first employer, except that if the individual gives notice to the first employer that the individual will leave employment on a specified date and the first employer terminated the individuals before that date, the seven-day period will commence from the specified date.”

But what happens if the new job is rescinded, due to no fault of the employee, before the employee ever starts his or her first day of work?  This is exactly what happened in the case entitled McClain v Board of Review. Patricia McClain had been a teacher at the Learning Edge Academy, in Galloway Township. On Oct. 12, 2015, she accepted an offer to teach at another school, in Egg Harbor, to start within seven days after she left her former employer. Unfortunately, a day after McClain quit her job at the Learning Edge, her job offer at  Kids Choice was rescinded.  As it turned out, the teacher she was supposed to replace, returned to the school, thus eliminating the need for the new position, and a new job for Ms. McClain.  Ms. McClain, now finding herself unemployed, applied for unemployment benefits, for which she was denied by the State Department of Labor’s Board of Review.

In August 2017, the Appellate Division reversed and granted Ms. McClain her unemployment benefits ruling that the worker doesn’t lose out on benefits if, for a reason not of his or her own doing, finds that the second job disappears, or is no longer available.  This ruling was opposite to an earlier appeals court ruling that denied benefits to a petitioner in similar circumstances under a strict interpretation of the statute that requires the subsequent employment to actually “commence.”

Fast forward several weeks.  The Appellate Division in Blake v Board of Review reached a different conclusion.  In this case, the court determined that unemployment benefits could not be awarded unless the employee actually began working at the second job. The Appellate Division, in its ruling, stated the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Law plainly says the employee must start working in the new job no later than seven days after leaving the first one in order to collect benefits.  Again, this is a strict interpretation of the statute. The New Jersey Supreme Court will now weigh in.

If you have questions concerning your rights to collect unemployment or would like representation in an unemployment appeal hearing, please contact our offices to speak to one of New Jersey unemployment attorneys about the specific facts and circumstances of your claim for unemployment benefits.