Are you entitled to unemployment compensation if you quit your job for “necessitous and compelling” reasons?

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Where an employee quits his or her job for a “cause of necessitous and compelling nature,” the employee may be entitled to unemployment compensation. In a case recently before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, a hatchery worker quit his job after completing an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. The employee testified that program counselors advised the employee to quit his job, due to the drinking and “other stuff” that occurred on the job. But the employee wanted to work, so he returned but requested that he be required to work no more than 40 hours each week.

The employer refused, insisting on the normal 50 to 60 hour work week or a night schedule of lengthy shifts. The employee quit, emphasizing his need to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and to follow his rehabilitation program, which included his maintaining leisure time.

The court found that the employee quit for necessitous and compelling reasons, creating a basis for an unemployment compensation award. The court noted that a necessitous and compelling cause for leaving a job arises when circumstances “produce pressure to terminate employment that is both real and substantial, and which would compel a reasonable person” to act in the same manner.

If an employee’s health needs create work problems, the employee must communicate the problems to the employer and must be available for “suitable work.” An employer is responsible for making reasonable accommodations in regard to the employee’s needs. The court placed significant reliance on the fact that the employee had attended a rehabilitation program and was attempting to follow specific directives of that program.

Employers must be increasingly aware of their obligations under Pennsylvania and federal law to accommodate the reasonable physical needs of employees. Employees who have legitimate needs which are capable of reasonable accommodation have legal rights.