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Cottman v. Board of Review

Cottman v. Board of Review (J. Silva, Middlesex) - In this published unemployment decision, the Appellate Division reversed the disqualification imposed by the New Jersey Department of Labor for leaving work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. Just before Ms. Cottman was to begin her workday, her babysitter unexpectedly quit, leaving her without child care for her three disabled children. She attempted to find a replacement to work her shift, but she was unsuccessful. When she explained that to her supervisor, the supervisor told her she might be fired if she failed to appear for work. Seeking to avoid termination, Ms. Cottman chose to resign. The New Jersey Department of Labor then held her disqualified from unemployment benefits for voluntarily leaving her job without good cause. Upon Ms. Cottman’s pro se appeal to the Appellate Division, the Court reversed, holding that she was entitled to benefits under N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.5. Pursuant to that regulation, a worker who resigns after being notified of an imminent (within 60 days) discharge or layoff is eligible for unemployment benefits. The Court reasoned that, although the employer’s use of the word “might” left termination uncertain, Ms. Cottman interpreted it as a “near-certainty” and therefore met the requirements of the regulation.

This case signifies a significant departure from the Court’s previous interpretation of N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.5. Prior to Cottman, the Court required that the impending termination or layoff be certain. A claimant who might be terminated or laid off if certain conditions were not met would not have met the criteria of the regulation. Here, for the first time, the Court suggests that N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.5 allows for a degree of uncertainty regarding the potential termination or layoff. No longer requiring unequivocal proof of a termination or layoff, the Court suggests that a claimant’s reasonable belief that a termination or layoff is “near-certain” suffices to demonstrate an imminent layoff.