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Kelly v. Board of Review

2005 WL 3050637 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

UNEMPLOYMENT—Harassment and treatment in an unprofessional manner by a supervisor can constitute good cause for an employee’s quitting his or her job and remaining eligible for unemployment benefits.

An employee had the job to make appointments for two sales representatives, after which the representatives would visit the customer to secure business. The employee was paid a salary plus commissions on his appointments. After six months on the job, one of the salespeople accused the employee of “making lewd remarks to his wife.” After a confrontation, both salespeople “began to freeze [the employee] out.” The employee’s life was being made miserable at the office. He was never advised of sales calls. Consequently, he “remained in the dark concerning his entitlement to commissions.” When the employee raised this communication barrier problem with senior management, one of the salespeople responded by yelling and screaming at the employee. According to the employee, he was continually treated disrespectfully at work and one of the salespeople took “personal things out on him in a harassing manner.” Eventually, the employee quit. An unemployment office Appeal Tribunal found that the company’s manager had tried to rectify the situation to no avail but the employee stayed at work and only left his position when he was denied a trip to a convention. The unemployment statute does not define “good cause,” but the Court observed that a good cause exists “where the reason is ‘sufficient to justify an employee’s voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed.” The question presented was whether this particular employee left his job “under the pressure of circumstances [that could] reasonably be viewed has having compelled” such action. The Appellate Division did not find sufficient evidence the Appeal Tribunal’s record to support the Appeal Tribunal’s decision. Instead, it felt that “the uncontroverted evidence established that claimant left because he was harassed by his immediate supervisor and treated in an unprofessional manner.” Although his decision to leave followed the employer’s decision to permit a newer employee to go to a convention, the claimant made it clear that the incident was the last straw in a series of events that caused him to leave. The evidence established that he left work for good cause attributed to work, specifically, adverse treatment by his superiors.” Consequently, the Court found the employee eligible for unemployment benefits.

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