Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation
Are You Eligible?
By: Frederick S. Long, Esq.
The purpose of this article is to review some basic information about eligibility for Unemployment Compensation (“UC”) benefits. Specifically, we’ll look at two frequently asked questions concerning eligibility for UC benefits after one’s employment has been terminated. Whether you are an employer or employee, we hope you find this information helpful.
The two areas of Unemployment Compensation (“UC”) law that arise most frequently are (1) whether an individual should be denied benefits after voluntarily quitting employment, and (2) whether an individual should be denied benefits after being terminated for engaging in behavior that may rise to the level of “willful misconduct.”
Voluntary Departure from Employment (i.e. quit)
Generally speaking, a former employee is not entitled to UC benefits if he or she voluntarily terminates employment; i.e. quits. But, there are exceptions.
To receive UC benefits after voluntarily leaving employment, you must establish that your reason for leaving was of a “necessitous and compelling” nature. The Courts have attempted to define the terms necessitous and compelling, as follows:
An employee who claims to have departed for a necessitous and compelling reason must prove the following four (4) elements:
- Circumstances existed that created a real and substantial pressure to leave employment,
- Such circumstances would force an ordinary person to leave,
- The employee acted with reasonable common sense, AND
- The employee took reasonable measures to preserve his or her employment.
The former employee has the burden to establish all four of the factors above in order to prevail, and to be eligible for UC benefits after voluntarily leaving employment.
Under Pennsylvania’s UC laws, a former employee is ineligible for benefits if unemployment or temporary suspension from work occurred because the employee committed “willful misconduct.” To deny UC benefits, the employer must demonstrate that the willful misconduct was connected to the employee’s work. But, there is not a strict requirement that the misconduct occurred on the employer’s property or even that the misconduct occurred during working hours.
“Willful misconduct” occurs when an employee willfully disregards an employer’s interests, deliberately violates work rules, deliberately disregards the employer’s reasonable standards of performance or behavior, or negligence of a kind that demonstrates evil intent. The employer does not need to demonstrate any harm caused by the behavior.
Behavior that is unacceptable to a particular employer does not necessarily rise to the level of willful misconduct. Even negligence may not be enough for willful misconduct. In other words, the mere fact that an employee failed to comply with policies, or acted negligently, does not always equate to willful misconduct – even if the employee was appropriately terminated. It is not a question of whether the employer had a right to terminate employment, but whether the state may deny benefits to an individual based on their conduct.
If particular behavior is reasonable or justifiable under the circumstances, it cannot be willful misconduct. If good cause is shown for the particular behavior, it is not willful misconduct, and an individual should not be denied benefits. Keep in mind, however, that benefits will be denied if an employee disregards warnings or reprimand for particular types of negligent behavior, i.e., the employee continues to engage in a certain type of negligent behavior after being warned.
Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation law is a niche area of the law. While the advice of an attorney is not required, an attorney is trained to focus on various potential defenses and nuances of the law, which may be unknown to an individual representing him or herself.