Can an employee who leaves his job to accompany his spouse to another state collect unemployment benefits?

It was either a victory for family values or, as a dissenting judge described it, an unfair and unauthorized requirement that an employer subsidize the personal choices of its employees. The Rhode Island Supreme Court has held that an employee who voluntarily leaves his job, in order to accompany his spouse to another state where she had taken a new job, is entitled to unemployment benefits.

The Rhode Island unemployment compensation law did not address this specific situation, but simply allowed benefits where the employee leaves for good cause. “Good cause,” said the court, is not limited to circumstances in which the employee is compelled to leave because of justified dissatisfaction with a job or negative conditions caused by the employer.

The policy of keeping existing families intact was at the heart of the decision, as is evident from a subtle distinction made by the court. The employee would not have been entitled to benefits if he had quit his job to marry and move away with his new wife. In that case, awarding benefits would not advance the goal of keeping a family united and the goal of avoiding actions that discourage a married couple from staying together.