To qualify for unemployment, you must be out of work through no fault of your own. If you quit your job voluntarily, without good cause, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits. However, if you are forced out and/or have good cause to quit, you may still be eligible for benefits, depending on the circumstances.
Each state sets its own eligibility standards for unemployment, including what constitutes "good cause" to quit. Some states define good cause narrowly, to include only work-related reasons for leaving. California is more generous: An employee who quits for a substantial and compelling reason, whether work-related or personal, may be eligible for benefits.
An employee quits voluntarily only if the employee is the one who initiated the chain of events that led to the job loss. If an employee resigns or abandons the job while work is still available, the employee has quit voluntarily. However, if the employer offers the employee an opportunity to quit rather than being discharged (typically, to make it easier for the employee to find new work), that isn't considered a voluntary quit, because the employee was going to lose the job regardless.
Good Cause to Quit
In California, good cause to quit exists when a substantial motivating factor in the employee's decision to quit was a real, substantial, and compelling reason (work-related or personal), which would cause a reasonable person who genuinely desired to continue working to leave the job under the same circumstances. Whether an employee has good cause to quit under this definition is determined on a case-by-case basis. Here are some reasons for quitting that California courts have found constitute good cause:
- Caring for a family member. An employee who quits to care for a seriously ill family member may have good cause to quit, if the employee's presence is necessary.
- Relocation with a spouse. An employee who quits to move with a spouse or to move in order to marry someone and establish a home elsewhere may have good cause to quit.
- Domestic violence. If an employee or her children have been subjected to or threatened with domestic abuse, and a transfer or leave of absence from work would not have solved the problem (for example, because the abuser has violated a restraining order), the employee may have good cause to quit.
- Health and safety. If an employee's working conditions pose an undue risk of injury or illness, the employee may have good cause to quit.
- Another job. An employee who quits to take another job may have good cause to quit, if the employee has a definite assurance of employment, and the new job is substantially better than -- and at least as permanent as -- the one the employee leaves. In this situation, if the new employer fails to come through with the promised job, the employee may still be able to collect unemployment.
- Constructive discharge. If the employee's working conditions are so unsatisfactory that they would be intolerable to a reasonable person who genuinely desired to keep working, the employee may have good cause to quit. In this situation, the law treats the employee's departure as a discharge (because the employer created the conditions that led to the end of the employment relationship) rather than a quit.
Efforts to Save the Relationship
In most cases, an employee who wants to collect unemployment after quitting must show that he or she took steps to try to resolve the problem and preserve the relationship prior to leaving the job. An employee who quits at the first sign of trouble won't be eligible for benefits. For a workplace problem, such as dangerous working conditions, the employee must bring the problem to the employer's attention and give the employer an opportunity to fix it. For a personal problem, such as a need to care for an ill family member, the employee should explore other ways to meet the family member's needs, such as taking a leave of absence or working a reduced schedule. Generally, an employee will be eligible for benefits only if steps to resolve the problem short of quitting are not successful.