Unemployment compensation is normally unavailable to an individual who voluntarily quits their employment, and is reserved for people who have lost their job through no fault of their own. That is the general rule. Pennsylvania law, however, holds that, “an employee who has voluntarily quit his job may nevertheless be entitled to unemployment compensation if his or her leaving work was with good cause. Such “good cause” must be of a necessitous and compelling nature. Fike v. Commonwealth, Unemployment Compensation Bd. of Review, 77 Pa. Commw. 176, 465 A.2d 136 (1983). The burden of proof rests squarely with the claimant to prove that he or she quit for a necessitous and compelling reason.
The courts, in an effort to add meat to those bones, have stated that, “cause of a “necessitous and compelling” nature is such cause as results from overpowering circumstances that produce both real and substantial pressure to terminate employment and that would compel a reasonable person to terminate employment. Draper v. Unemployment Compensation Bd. of Review, 718 A.2d 383 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1998).
That doesn’t seem to help us much, does it? In 2012, however, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court outlined a four part test, stating that, “in order to show necessitous and compelling cause, the claimant must establish that: (1) circumstances existed which produced real and substantial pressure to terminate employment; (2) like circumstances would compel a reasonable person to act in the same manner; (3) he or she acted with ordinary common sense; and (4) he or she made a reasonable effort to preserve employment. Middletown Township v. Unemployment Compensation Bd. of Review, 40 A.3d 217 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2012).
Well, surely that helped? Maybe a little. A survey of the current case law shows that quitting employment for being moved to a different shift, having your hours changed, fear of lay-off, leaving to start a business, or general personal conflicts at work are not necessitous and compelling reasons to quit and the employee will therefore not receive benefits. Reasons to quit that have been held to be necessitous and compelling, however, are sexual harassment, and more serious personal conflicts at work that effect the employee’s health and/or morals. That, as is usual, still leaves plenty of gray subjectivity in the law. The lawyer answer to our question then is, as always; “It depends…”