Quitting vs. Unemployment Claims

Can an employee collect unemployment insurance if they voluntarily quit?

You’ve seen it in the movies a hundred times: Boss says, “You’re fired!” Employee replies, “You can’t fire me; I quit!” and storms out of the room.

Cut to the next scene: HR manager pulling her hair out, trying to figure out the best way to characterize this separation.


1. If the employee is fired, they think they can collect unemployment.

2. If the employee quits, the employer thinks the employee cannot collect

Wish it were that simple. The following scenarios should help:

Scenario 1: The usual criterion is if the employee lost their job “through no fault of their own”, they are eligible to collect unemployment. In these cases, the burden of proof rests with the former employee. In order to collect, the former employee must prove that they quit with a good reason or for “good cause”. A good cause could be a substantial change in pay, unsafe or hostile working conditions, etc. Good cause may be established when work related conditions have substantially deteriorated or a situation exists that would force a reasonable person to leave his or her employment.

The employer should be able to present facts showing they attempted to resolve any such situation, i.e., provided alternatives that were available to the employee prior to the resignation. In this case, the state will ask for information from the employer; such as what the work-related problem was and did the employee pursue options such as a leave of absence, transfer or a shift change prior to leaving.

Scenario 2: In the case of termination for failure to meet behavior or performance standards, the burden will be on the employer to show proof that:

1. the employee knew the standards expected,

2. the employee had all the tools necessary to meet the standards, and

3. the employee was warned about the consequences for continued failure to meet them.

The key element in this scenario is the documentation of each step. Remember: “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen”.

The issue of a work-related problem must be resolved before you lose a valuable employee and before a, uh, not-so-valuable employee collects unemployment or worse: decides to sue for wrongful termination. As with so many HR issues, it looks easier in the movies.

Betsey Nash, SPHR

United Staffing Associates


Betsey has over 18 yrs exp. as a Human Resources generalist & over 20 yrs exp. in management. Prior to merging her successful consulting firm, NASH HR SERVICES with UNITED STAFFING ASSOCIATES, her experience included 10 yrs in HR with The Home Depot before being recruited by Bed, Bath & Beyond to be District HR manager for the busy San Fernando Valley. Since 1983, Betsey continues to be a popular teacher of classes in management, human resources & communication for professionals in b...

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