A 2015 Amendment to the Unemployment Insurance Statute is Construed Favorably to a Claimant

McClain v. Board of Review, 451 N.J. Super. 461 (App. Div. 2017).  In general, employees who leave work voluntarily are disqualified from obtaining unemployment benefits.  In 2015, the unemployment statute, N.J.S.A. 43;21-5(a), was amended to exempt from disqualification “an individual who voluntarily leaves work  with one employer to accept from another employer employment which commences not more than seven days after the individual leaves … the first employer.”

In this case, the claimant left one teaching job, at Learning Edge Academy, Inc., accepting an offer for another teaching position, at Kids Choice Academy.  She immediately submitted a resignation letter to Learning Edge, who responded by e-mail with an acceptance of the resignation.  The next day, however, Kids Choice rescinded its offer because the person whom the applicant was to replace decide to return to work at Kids Choice.  The applicant looked for other jobs but could not find one.  She did not reapply to Learning Edge, since she had resigned and believed that she would not be wanted there.

When the applicant sought unemployment benefits, her application was denied at all levels of the administrative process.  The Board of Review reasoned that she “was not covered by the exemption because she did not actually commence employment with Kids Choice within seven days of her last day of employment at Learning Edge.”  She appealed to the Appellate Division, and that court reversed in an opinion by Judge Vernoia.

Judge Vernoia observed that the court was not bound by the agency’s legal interpretation of the 2015 amendment, and that the unemployment law is “social legislation” whose “remedial and beneficial purposes” call for it to be “construed liberally in favor of  allowance of benefits.”  Applying the statutory language selected by the Legislature, the court concluded that the amendment “does not expressly require that a claimant actually commence work with the seven-day period.  To the contrary, the amendment requires only that a claimant leave work with the first employer ‘to accept’ employment with the second employer which commences within the seven-day period.”

The Board’s view, Judge Vernoia said, imposes a condition that the Legislature could have imposed, but did not: that the employee not only leave a job to accept another job “which commences within the seven-day period, but also that the claimant actually commence the new employment within the seven-day period.”  The panel declined to rewrite the statute to include “an additional qualification which the Legislature pointedly omitted in drafting its own enactment.”  And though it was not necessary to resort to reviewing the legislative history, Judge Vernoia did so and found that it did not support the Board’s position either.  Accordingly, the panel reversed the Board’s denial of unemployment benefits to this claimant.