Employee Eligible for Unemployment Benefits After Resigning Under the Threat of Imminent Termination

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently held that an employee, who quit her job in response to being told that she would be fired, can collect unemployment benefits.

In the case Cottman v. Bd. of Review, Dkt. No. A-1908-16T2, 2018 N.J. Super. LEXIS 52 (App. Div. March 29, 2018), the Appellate Division reversed the Board of Review’s decision that found Ms. Cottman ineligible for quitting her job after her child care arrangements fell through requiring her to ask for the day off.  Ms. Cottman was a parent of three children all of whom had special needs and worked the night shift for Quality Management Associates as a residential counselor.  When Ms. Cottman’s babysitter unexpectedly quit, Cottman as per company policy, tried to find a coworker to fill in for her but was unsuccessful finding anyone to work for her. As a result, Ms. Cottman told her supervisor that she would not be able to make it to work for her shift because there was no one to take care of her kids.  Her supervisor responded that she “might” be fired and should not “play with [her] time.”  Upon being told she might be fired, Cottman instead resigned.

When Ms. Cottman subsequently applied for unemployment benefits, she was initially denied after it was determined she had left her work voluntarily and without good cause attributable to her work.  The Appeal Tribunal cited the New Jersey Administrative Code (N.J.A.C.) which includes “care of children or other relatives” in the list of personal reasons that will ordinarily disqualify someone from receiving unemployment benefits. The Board of Review affirmed the decision.

Ms. Cottman then appealed to the Appellate Division who agreed that she should be eligible for unemployment benefits.  Specifically, the Appellate Division noted that had Ms. Cottman indeed been terminated, she would have been eligible for unemployment benefits. This is because in order for there to be misconduct for an unauthorized absence, the employee must not have any good cause for being absent from work, or failed without justification to take steps necessary to notify the employer of the absences and reasons.  Neither was the case here since Ms. Cottman clearly showed good cause to miss work and took reasonable steps to notify her employer.

The more problematic issue for the Court was whether Ms. Cottman’s termination was imminent, which would justify her ability to quit and collect benefits. The Court analyzed the undisputed testimony of her supervisor’s response that she “might’ be terminated if she did not report to work and found that Ms. Cottman had interpreted it as a near-certainty.  This was enough for the Court to find that Ms. Cottman was notified of an imminent discharge.

This decision is a win for employees who quit their job in response to being told their termination was imminent.  The Appellate Division’s decision that an employee need not wait to be fired when discharge is imminent is grounded in fairness and common sense.

If you have any questions or would like legal representation in connection with your claim for unemployment benefits, please call one of our office’s unemployment attorneys to discuss the facts and circumstances of your claim.