Unemployment Benefits in Michigan: Is an employee who voluntarily quits her job entitled to unemployment benefits?

Author: LegalEase Solutions 

Introduction

An employee voluntarily quit her job at a small business in Michigan, and later, she filed for unemployment benefits with the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) which has been granted.

Question Presented

  1. Is an employee who voluntarily quit the job entitled to receive unemployment benefits under Michigan Laws?

Short Answer

  1. Yes. An employee leaving the work voluntarily is entitled to receive unemployment benefits if the employee proves that such leaving was with good cause attributable to the employer.

Discussion

  1. MCLS § 421.29 (1) (a) DISQUALIFIES AN EMPLOYEE FROM RECEIVING BENEFITS IF THE EMPLOYEE LEFT WORK VOLUNTARILY WITHOUT GOOD CAUSE ATTRIBUTABLE TO THE EMPLOYER

 An individual shall be disqualified for benefits in the following cases in which the individual left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer or employing unit.  MCLS § 421.29 (1) (a).  See also Warren v. Caro Community Hosp., 457 Mich. 361, 364-365 (Mich. 1998); Clarke v. North Detroit Gen. Hosp., 437 Mich. 280, 283 (Mich. 1991); Carswell v. Share House, Inc., 151 Mich. App. 392, 396 (Mich. Ct. App. 1986) (MCL 421.29(1)(a) states unambiguously that persons leaving voluntarily, unless they leave with good cause attributable to the employer, are disqualified from receiving benefits).

An individual who left work is presumed to have left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer or employing unit.   MCLS § 421.29 (1) (a).  An individual claiming benefits under the Michigan Employment Security Act has the burden of proof to establish that he or she left work involuntarily or for good cause that was attributable to the employer or employing unit.  Id.

A person is entitled to unemployment benefits is a two-part inquiry.   Warren v. Caro Community Hosp., 457 Mich. 361, 366 (Mich. 1998).  Under the first prong, one must determine whether the person voluntarily left the position.   Id.  If it is found that the person left the position involuntarily, the inquiry ends and the person is entitled to unemployment compensation.  Id. at 366-367.  Whether a person left voluntarily will depend on the particular facts and circumstances of the case.  Id. at 367.  However, if the court finds that the person left the position voluntarily, then it must advance to prong two to determine whether the leaving was “without good cause attributable to the employer.”  Id.  See also Clarke v. North Detroit Gen. Hosp., 437 Mich. 280, 291 (Mich. 1991) (Section 29(1)(a) focuses on whether an employee “left work voluntarily, and the language of the statute does not mention or focus on whether an employer discharged the employee.  Therefore, a rule which focuses on “issues concerning ‘volition’ and ‘good cause'” on a case-by-case basis would seem a better approach.)

In Warren, 457 Mich. 361, 367, an employee sought unemployment benefits for the period when her employer refused to allow her to return to work following her pregnancy.  The employee was willing to continue working, but was advised by her treating physician not to work because of a temporary or short-term, self-limited medical condition properly documented by the physician.  Id.  In this case, the court held that the employee has not “voluntarily” quit employment by following her doctor’s advice, and if the employer refuses to allow the employee to return to work as soon as medically possible, the employee is entitled to unemployment compensation under the act.  Id.

In Clarke, the question presented before the court was whether two nurses employed by the defendant hospitals, who were discharged after they failed nursing board licensing examinations, were entitled to unemployment compensation benefits.  Clarke v. North Detroit Gen. Hosp., 437 Mich. 280, 282 (Mich. 1991).  The employers argued that the disqualification provisions must be read in light of the policy statement in § 2 of the act speaking of “persons unemployed through no fault of their own.”  Id. at 289.  The employers further argued that the nurses became unemployed through their own actions, and thus, it cannot be said that they are unemployed through no fault of their own.  Id.  However, putting aside whether and to what extent the policy statement set forth at the outset of the act should be read as modifying the specific disqualification provisions of the act, the court did not ascribe fault to the employees simply because they failed the examination. Id.  The court rejected the argument that the discharged workers had in fact “voluntarily quit,” and quoted with approval a Pennsylvania court’s definition of “voluntary” in MacFarland v. Unemployment Compensation Bd. of Review, 158 Pa. Super. 418, 422 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1946) as “‘when we say, “he left work voluntarily,” we commonly mean, “he left of his own motion; he was not discharged.”‘”  Id. at 285.  The court further observed that there was no evidence in the record that the nurses were negligent in preparing for or taking the examination.  Id. at 288.  So, the court finally held that the employee nurses did not leave work “voluntarily” when they were discharged after they failed the examinations and they are entitled to unemployment benefits.  Id. at 282.

Once the court finds that the employee left the position voluntarily, then the next question it should determine is whether the leaving was “without good cause attributable to the employer.”  Warren, 457 Mich. 361, 367.  Good cause” as used in MCL 421.29(1)(a) has not been defined.  Carswell v. Share House, Inc., 151 Mich. App. 392, 396 (Mich. Ct. App. 1986).  However, in the context of MCL 421.29(1)(e) which provides for disqualification for refusing to accept proffered employment without good cause, “good cause” has been defined as nothing more than a good reason, a substantial reason; a cause personal to the employee can be “good cause” when it would be deemed by reasonable men valid and not indicative of an unwillingness to work.  Id.  See also Dueweke v. Morang Drive Greenhouses, 411 Mich. 670, 678-679 (Mich. 1981).  This definition is the one generally used nationwide for statutes denying benefits for voluntary leaving without good cause attributable to an employer.  Id.

The “reasonable man” standard properly effectuates the legislative intention behind MCL 421.29(1)(a).  Carswell, 151 Mich. App. 392, 396.  Under that standard, “good cause” compelling an employee to terminate his employment should be found where an employer’s actions would cause a reasonable, average, and otherwise qualified worker to give up his or her employment.  Id. at 396-397.  See also Johnides v. St. Lawrence Hosp., 184 Mich. App. 172, 175 (Mich. Ct. App. 1990); McArthur v. Borman’s, Inc., 200 Mich. App. 686, 693 (Mich. Ct. App. 1993).

As with most similar acts in other states, the general purpose of the Michigan Employment Security Act, MCL 421.1 et seq. is to safeguard the general welfare through the dispensation of benefits intended to ameliorate the disastrous effects of involuntary unemployment.  Schultz v. Oakland County, 187 Mich. App. 96, 102-103 (Mich. Ct. App. 1991).  In light of that purpose, the provisions of the act are liberally construed.  Id. at 103. Disqualification provisions, however, are to be construed narrowly.  Id.  See also Laya v. Cebar Constr. Co., 101 Mich. App. 26, 34-35 (Mich. Ct. App. 1980).

An individual is not disqualified from receiving benefits even if he or she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer or employing unit if such individual has an established benefit year in effect and during that benefit year leaves unsuitable work within 60 days after the beginning of that work.  MCLS § 421.29 (1) (a) (i).   Further, such disqualification does not apply if the individual is the spouse of a full-time member of the United States armed forces, and the leaving is due to the military duty reassignment of that member of the United States armed forces to a different geographic location.  MCLS § 421.29 (1) (a) (ii).  

In the instant case, the employee left her job voluntarily. Therefore, the only question to be determined is whether such leaving was with good cause attributable to the employer.  The initial burden of proof lies heavily on the employee.  See McArthur v. Borman’s, Inc., 200 Mich. App. 686, 691 (Mich. Ct. App. 1993) (Except plant-closing cases, where the burden of proof of voluntariness is shifted to the employer, the claimant retains the burden of proof in all other cases.)  If the employee proves that she left her job for the employer’s actions that would cause any reasonable, average, and otherwise qualified worker to give up his or her employment, then she is entitled to receive unemployment benefits.  The only other situations which will entitle the employee to unemployment benefits are her leaving falling under any of the two exceptions given under MCLS § 421.29 (1) (a).  

Conclusion

An employee leaving the work voluntarily is entitled to receive unemployment benefits only if the employee proves that the leaving was with good cause attributable to the employer or that such leaving falls under the two exceptions given under MCLS § 421.29 (1) (a).  The initial burden of proof lies on the employee.  The question if the employee’s leaving was with or without good cause attributable to the employer is a question of law that depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.