In general, if an employee resigns from his/her employment, New York State will deny unemployment benefits to the employee. However, what if the employee resigns for a good reason — because the employer is discriminating against the employee because of sex, race, religion, or disability? The New York State Appellate Division, Third Department recently addressed this issue..
In, Katz v. Commissioner of Labor, an employee, who observes the Jewish Sabbath, needed to leave work at 2:45 p.m. on Friday. The Supervisor scheduled a meeting for 2:00 p.m. on Friday, but advised the employee that she could leave at 2:45 p.m. As 2:45 p.m. approach, the supervisor requested that the employee stay to prepare a report, but then after the supervisor observed that the employee was anxious and upset he told the employee to go home for the day. On Monday, the employee resigned from her job.
The Court found that regardless of the inappropriateness of the supervisor’s actions, the employee needed to give the employer the “opportunity to investigate the matter and take corrective action.” Without providing the employer with this opportunity, the employee is deemed to have voluntarily left employment without good cause and was denied unemployment benefits. There have been other cases over the past few years where the Appellate Division has consistently ruled that an employee will be deemed to have voluntarily resigned without good cause if the employee does not provide the opportunity for the employer to fix the issue.
The following are situations where the courts have found an employee resigned and is not entitled to unemployment benefits: An employee felt harassed by his supervisor and resigned, but never followed the company’s complaint procedures Matter of Roman v. Commissioner of Labor, 32 AD 3d 1067 (2006); An employee felt her co-workers were staring at her after return from disability leave, and she resigned even after the employer reprimanded the co-workers Matter of Barnett v. Barnett v. Commissioner of Labor, 52 AD3d 1138 (2008); employee-driver quit his employment because he had to haul overweight loads and use unsafe equipment, but the employer’s policies provided that claimant could refuse to haul because of safety and, instead of complaining, the employee resigned.
One of the reasons employers have been successful in these cases is that the employers had policies and procedures in place for employees to complain, and employees did not avail him/herself of these procedures. While employee handbooks are not the definitive answer to every complaint, handbooks help to show employers’ complaint procedures and can assist in unemployment hearings as well as discrimination cases.
If you should have any issues with your employee handbook or other employment law issues, please do not hesitate contacting our firm.