If you quit your job voluntarily, without good cause, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits in California or any other state. However, if you are forced out 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.
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 probably won't be eligible for unemployment. But sometimes what is voluntary is a gray area.
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.
In California, you can't get unemployment benefits if you quit your job unless you had a substantial and compelling reason for doing so.
(Read more about California's unemployment eligibility requirements.)
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:
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.
If you've been denied unemployment benefits in California after quitting your job, you might want to appeal if you had good cause to quit. Contact an employment lawyer to discuss how to proceed.
Need a lawyer? Start here.