Lord v. Board of Review, 425 N.J. Super. 187 (App. Div. 2012). Did an employee who accepted his employer’s directive that he “had to resign” leave his job “voluntarily” so as to disqualify him from receiving unemployment benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a)? That was the question in this case. Judge Skillman, writing for the Appellate Division, said “no” and reversed the contrary decision of the Board of Review.
Talmage Lord had a job that required him to use his own car in going from store to store of his employer. His car broke down on a Wednesday. The employer let him miss work on that Thursday. On that Thursday, however, the garage to which Lord’s car had been towed told him that the car would require an expensive transmission repair. Lord did not have the money to pay for the repair or to rent a substitute car. He tried to get alternative transporation from his father or a friend but could not reach either of them. As a result, on Friday, Lord told his supervisor that he was not sure whether he would have a car by the following Monday. The supervisor told Lord that he “had to resign” effective immediately. Lord felt he had no choice, so he resigned. But he considered himself “terminated” and applied for unemployment benefits.
The Board of Review denied his claim, on the basis that he had voluntarily left his job without good cause attributable to the work. Lord appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed. Judge Skillman cited Campbell Soup Co. v. Board of Review, 13 N.J. 431 (1953), in which Justice Brennan wrote that separation from employment is “voluntary” only if “the decision whether to go or to stay lay at the time with the worker alone.” That was not the case here. The Board of Review’s contrary conclusion was based on a misapplication of confusing testimony that Judge Skillman quoted at length.
The panel also rightly distinguished Self v. Board of Review, 91 N.J. 453 (1982), on which the Board of Review had relied. There, the employees told their employer that they were leaving their jobs due to a lack of transportation. The employer had not directed them to resign, as here.
Finally, Judge Skillman noted that the Board of Review’s decision on these facts was inconsistent with the principle that the Unemployment Compensation Law “is to be construed liberally in favor of allowance of benefits.” That was just one more reason that the Board of Review’s conclusion, which seems quite plainly to contradict common sense, required reversal.