Unemployment Compensation When You Quit Your Job

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Can you get unemployment benefits if you quit your job? The answer depends on your reasons for leaving and the laws of your state. Generally speaking, unemployment benefits are available only to employees who are out of work through no fault of their own. Employees who quit might meet this standard, if they had good cause to leave their jobs.

Good Cause to Quit: Constructive Discharge

If you have good cause to leave your job, as defined by your state’s law, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits. In this situation, you will not be considered to have voluntarily quit your job.

Most states recognize that an employee who is constructively discharged – forced to quit in circumstances that any reasonable person would have found intolerable – is eligible for unemployment. For example, if you quit because you are facing constant sexual harassment or dangerous working conditions that the company refuses to remedy, you may still be eligible for unemployment. The law will treat you as if you were forced out rather than as if you quit voluntarily.

Similarly, an employee who quits in lieu of being fired or laid off will not lose his or her eligibility for unemployment benefits. For example, if your manager tells you to accept an “early retirement” package now, because you are slated for layoff in a few weeks, you will probably still be eligible for unemployment. Even though you left your job, your decision wasn’t truly voluntary.

Good Cause to Quit for Personal Reasons

Some states allow employees to collect unemployment if they quit their jobs for compelling personal reasons. Here are some examples; because the law differs from state to state, you’ll want to check with your state’s unemployment insurance office before making any decisions:

  • Relocation with a spouse. Some states allow employees to collect benefits if they quit their job to follow a spouse who must relocate for work or military service.
  • Medical reasons. An employee who quits work because of his or her own medical condition or to care for a seriously ill family member might still be eligible for unemployment. (Some states allow employees to collect benefits after quitting for his or her own health reasons only if the employee’s condition was caused by the job.)
  • Domestic violence. In many states, an employee who has to leave a job for reasons relating to domestic violence will still be eligible for benefits.
  • Another job. An employee who quits one job to take another may be eligible for unemployment. However, the new job must be fairly certain (for example, based on a firm offer of employment); you won’t be eligible for benefits if you quit your job to look for work. This exception comes into play only if the new job doesn’t pan out as expected, and the employee ends up unexpectedly out of work.

Disqualifying Reasons to Quit

There are many perfectly good reasons why you might decide to quit a job. However, not all of them entitle you to unemployment benefits. For example, perhaps you’ve decided to try you hand at a different type of work. Maybe you’ve recognized that you’re in a dead-end position with no opportunities to move up the corporate ladder. Or, you might find your work unfulfilling, your coworkers annoying, or your commute too long. All of these reasons might be imminently sensible, but they are generally not considered “good cause” to quit a job, which will keep make you eligible to collect unemployment.

Next Steps

As you can see, your eligibility for unemployment after quitting a job depends on your state’s law. To find out how your state defines “good cause” to quit, contact your state unemployment insurance agency. You can find links and contact information for every state's unemployment agency at www.servicelocator.org/OWSLinks.asp, the Career One Stop site sponsored by the federal Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.

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