Your eligibility for unemployment when you quit a job depends on whether you had good cause to quit, as defined by your state’s law.
To be eligible for employment benefits, you must be temporarily out of work through no fault of your own. (This is only one eligibility requirement; for information on the other requirements, see Who Is Eligible for Unemployment?) Employees who are laid off or lose their jobs for economic reasons (because their employer had to cut costs, close a plant, or shut down a production line, for example) will meet this requirement. Employees who are fired will also be eligible, as long as they weren’t terminated for serious misconduct.
But what about employees who quit? These employees may also be eligible for unemployment benefits, but it depends on why they quit. An employee who voluntarily quits, without good cause, won’t be eligible to collect unemployment in any state. But each state defines good cause a bit differently.
Quitting Your Job to Pursue Better Opportunities
There are many good reasons to quit a job that don’t count as good cause. For example, you might decide to quit your job because you want to change careers, you’d like to find a position that pays better, or your job has become unfulfilling and you want to try something new. All of these might be very good reasons to move on, but you won’t be able to collect unemployment benefits if you do. They don’t qualify as “good cause,” legally speaking.
Good Cause to Quit
In some states, an employee will be eligible for unemployment benefits only if the employee quit for good cause relating to the job (for example, because the job was unsafe or the employee had a serious work-related injury). In other states, an employee who quits for compelling personal reasons will also be eligible. Here are some situations in which you might have good cause to quit — and be eligible for unemployment benefits:
- Constructive discharge. If your work situation was so untenable that you were really forced to quit, most states will allow you to collect unemployment. If you were subjected to relentless harassment, forced to work in dangerous conditions, or asked to break the law (by falsifying financial records, for instance), and you felt that quitting was your only option, that is likely to qualify as good cause to quit. If a reasonable person in your situation would have found the working environment intolerable, you will still be eligible for benefits in most states.
- Domestic violence. Most states allow an employee to collect unemployment benefits if the employee had to quit work for reasons relating to domestic violence (for example, to relocate with her children).
- Medical reasons. Many states make benefits available to employees who quit because of a disability or an illness or injury. Some states require that the medical condition be related to the job (because the job caused or aggravated the condition); others don’t impose this requirement. In some states, an employee who quits because of a family member’s medical condition may also be eligible for benefits.
Your state may define good cause more generously. For example, some states provide benefits to an employee who quit to move with a spouse who has accepted a job in another state or has been reposted by the military. To find out what your state considers good cause for quitting, contact your state’s unemployment insurance agency. For links to each state’s agency, see State Unemployment Agencies.