Ask The Lawyer, Are we on the hook for his benefits?


QUESTION: One of my employees was diagnosed with a cancer, and told everyone he would be leaving the company to undergo treatment. Before he left, he asked for three months’ leave – but I told him that we don’t have a leave policy (and we’re not covered by the FMLA). The best we could have done, under our policy, was give him unpaid leave for four weeks. Since he needed more time than that, we had to terminate his employment. I promised I would give him preference if he was able to work again. Four months later, we hear from the unemployment insurance agency that the guy wants unemployment benefits, because he is now looking for work (I haven’t heard from him!). Are we on the hook for his benefits?

ANSWER: The worker may not be eligible for benefits – but it may take the Unemployment Insurance Agency some time to figure that out. Under MCL 421.29(1)(a) a worker who left work “voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer or employing unit” is not eligible for unemployment benefits. The situation becomes a little murky where the worker was terminated because of a medical condition that prevented him (or her) from doing the job. The illness, obviously, is not attributable to the employer – but the worker was terminated.

The law also allows an individual to receive benefits if he or she left work involuntarily OR for good cause. When a worker leaves work involuntarily for medical reasons, he or she must have (1) “secured a statement from a medical professional that continuing in the individual’s current job would be harmful to the individual’s physical or mental health; (2) unsuccessfully attempted to secure alternative work with the employer; and (3) unsuccessfully attempted to be placed on a leave of absence with the employer to last until the individual’s mental or physical health would no longer be harmed by the current job.”

So, if your former worker did not present medical evidence of his need for leave, or attempt to secure alternative work of some kind, he is probably not eligible for benefits. You could also point out to the UIA that the former employee has not tried to find work with you, although you had invited him to do so before he had to go in for cancer treatment.

The lawyers at GWINN LEGAL PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at

Information provided on “Ask the Lawyer” is current as of the date of publication. Laws and their interpretation are subject to change. The material provided through “Ask the Lawyer” is informational only; it should not be considered legal advice. Submitting a question to “Ask the Lawyer” does not create an attorney-client relationship between the person submitting the question and GWINN LEGAL PLLC. To view previous columns, please visit our website.

By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3300
(248) 247-3310 facsimile
[email protected]