Are quits treated differently from discharges in an unemployment case?

Surprisingly, it may not always be clear whether a worker quit or whether they were discharged.  Let's look at the example of someone that quits in lieu of discharge (e.g. "quit, or you'll be fired").  How does the state treat such job separations?

The state agencies decide whether a case should be treated as a quit or a discharge based upon which party, the employer or the worker, first moved to end the relationship.  If the employer asks a worker to submit a letter of resignation, the employer has moved first.  Therefore, the state agency will apply discharge standards to the separation (see the misconduct section of the FAQ).  They will rule based upon whether the worker had knowledge of the employer's expectations, whether the worker actions established culpability or harm to the employer's interests, and whether the worker had control over the behavior that resulted in him or her being asking to resign.

The moving party concept is applied whenever there is doubt about whether the case should be adjudicated as a quit or a discharge.  Sometimes this can be tricky.  For example, suppose a worker gives the employer two weeks notice prior to quitting.  Suppose further that the employer tells the worker that it will not be necessary for him or her to work the two weeks.  Is this a quit or a discharge?  Perhaps surprisingly, most states would rule that such a separation was a discharge!  This is true because the employer has set an earlier date of separation than the worker intended.  If an employer wants the worker to leave earlier than the notice he or she has given, and they are unable to mutually agree upon an earlier date, the employer should consider paying the worker though the date of the notice.  Paying the worker through the date of his or her notice will not change the effective date the worker has selected for the separation.  The state will therefore usually view such separations as voluntary quits.

Forcing the worker to leave before they want to will usually make the person eligible for unemployment benefits, even if the reason that he or she gave for quitting was not compelling.

Q:  How does the fact that a worker quit or was discharged change the eligibility determination?

A:  We have already discussed the necessity for an employer to establish knowledge, culpability and control in discharge cases.  In instances where a worker voluntarily ends the employment relationship, the worker has the burden of establishing that he or she had compelling reasons for quitting.  This may not be easy.  He or she must show that reasonable efforts have been taken to resolve the situation before quitting.  In addition, many states require that the reason for quitting not only be compelling, but that it also be connected to the employment.

The following states allow some exceptions to the requirement that the reason for quitting be connected to the job:  Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  These states may pay unemployment benefits when the reason for leaving is truly compelling, even when it is not connected to the job.

Employers can increase their chances of winning unemployment cases involving voluntary quit situations by being responsive to genuine worker concerns.  For example, if a worker has a serious medical problem, the employer should consider granting a leave of absence, or (if appropriate) moving the worker to an area where the medical problem is not aggravated.  A worker's chances of collecting unemployment benefits are greatly enhanced if he or she can establish that the employer ignored his or her serious complaints.

Disclaimer:  The information contained in the examples given on this page is general in nature and is not intended as legal advice.  There are no guarantees that a particular state unemployment adjudicator will rule as others have in the cited examples.  Individuals seeking legal advice concerning the handling of similar matters should consult with their attorney, rather than relying upon the information given.

The purpose of this document is to educate clients and potential clients about unemployment compensation. While some effort has been made to address the many differences in laws and procedures in the 53 different jurisdictions (each of the fifty states plus Puerto Rico, Washington D.C. and the Virgin Islands), the primary purpose of this presentation is to review some basic principles shared by many jurisdictions.