QUESTION: Until last January, a co-worker and I were responsible for writing, editing and layout of several newsletters for different companies. In February, my co-worker, who had been heroically battling cancer, passed away. In the weeks that followed, I continued doing the work we had formerly shared. My hours escalated, but my manager assured me a replacement would be hired, soon. In May, I was told that the interview process was “ongoing” and someone would be hired soon. I asked if I could receive extra compensation and was shut down. By August, I was working 80+ hours per week, and my effective hourly rate had dropped from $25 to about $14. When my manager told me that the job search was still ongoing, I quit. I’m told I can’t get unemployment benefits because I “voluntarily quit.” I feel I had no choice.

ANSWER:     There’s a lot more of that going around than just a few years ago. In June 2019, 3.4 million people quit their jobs – some 2.3 percent of the work force. That rate has remained steady for over a year, although the total number of people quitting is down slightly from an April high of 3.5 million. But while the rate has remained steady this year, it rose every year from 2009 to 2018, and is currently at a 17-year high. Economist say the uptick in the number of people willing to leave their jobs is a sign that workers are confident they can find other jobs.

            Of course, not everyone who voluntarily leaves has another job lined up, which means some – like you — may seek unemployment benefits. And that’s not easy to do. The top reason people are ruled ineligible for unemployment benefits is because they voluntarily quit their jobs.

            The Michigan Employment Security Act, which governs unemployment claims in Michigan, was designed to address the ills of “involuntary unemployment.” Section 29(a)(1) states that an individual is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits if he or she “left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer or employing unit.”

            So, what is “good cause” to leave a job? The Act does not define it.

            Case law, however, states that good cause may be found “where the employer’s actions would cause a reasonable, average, or otherwise qualified worker to give up his or her employment.” Carswell v Share House, Inc, 151 Mich App 392 (1986). What kind of behavior might cause a worker to give up a job varies.

For example, a woman had good cause to quit when she no longer felt safe at work after her supervisor refused to take action when the woman’s abusive ex-husband twice showed up at the workplace. Another woman had good cause to quit when she was harassed by a supervisor after making a complaint against him. “Good cause” was also found where a worker quit after being asked to perform 13 hours of heavy manual labor for twenty-two days straight, and he was physically unable to continue. And, a significant reduction in wages can also constitute a good cause attributable to the employer as can a 50 to 100 percent increase in an employee’s workload.

            Based on what you describe, your employer’s decision to ask you to perform two jobs for the price of one was good cause for your decision to leave. You should be eligible for unemployment but – be warned – the burden of proof is on the employee, and even claims which you believe should be granted may be denied.

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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]