Employees who quit their jobs with "good cause" attributable to the employer are entitled to collect unemployment insurance benefits. A recent Iowa case gained national attention over the past week because the circumstances were so unusual. Even Seth Meyers of NBC's Saturday Night Live mentioned the case during the October 8, 2011 Weekend Update.
The owner of an Iowa convenience store chain QC Marts offered cash to employees who predicted which of their colleagues would be terminated first. The owner faxed a document to workers that said, "NEW CONTEST - GUESS THE NEXT CASHIER WHO WILL BE FIRED !!!" Employees who guessed correctly were offered a $10 prize for submitting the name of the next cashier to be fired. The contest rules also read, "And no fair picking Mike Miller from Rockingham," the memo added in boldfaced capital letters. "He was fired at around 11:30 a.m. today for wearing a had [sic] and talking on his cell phone. Good luck!!!!"
Employees initially believed the contest was a bad joke, but when they found out it was serious, four employees, including the store manager, quit. Like many employers, the owner contested unemployment benefits arguing that the employees voluntarily quit and were therefore not entitled to unemployment benefits. The company actually appeared at the unemployment hearing and argued that the contest was aimed at employees, like some of those who quit, who had a history of disregarding the employer's rules and it was therefore not unreasonable.
But the judge ruled in the employees' favor, finding that they had "good cause attributable to the employer" to quit their jobs. The Judge wrote in the decision that the employer created a "hostile work environment" by holding a contest that was "egregious and deplorable".
If you're thinking about quitting because of your supervisor's behavior or an unlivable work environment, you should speak with an attorney to obtain and opinion about whether or not your case meets the standard for "good cause attributable to the employer" and whether or not you might be entitled to unemployment benefits if you quit. Not all cases are as obvious as the QC Marts case, and it's a good idea to have an attorney help with a "good cause" hearing if it becomes necessary.
Attorney Nicholas M. McLeod is an associate attorney with Alan C. Olson & Associates, S.C. If you have questions about unemployment insurance, he may be reached at: [email protected]