Why can employees who quit for COVID-19-related reasons collect unemployment insurance?

An employee who quits with good cause is eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) in California. According to the California Code of Regulations, good cause exists when the “motivating factor… is real, substantial, and compelling and would cause a reasonable person genuinely desirous of retaining employment to leave work under the same circumstances.” (22 CCR 1256-3(b))

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some common reasons for quitting with good cause included taking a substantially better job, having to move away when a spouse’s job was relocated, or an employer who was not responsive to concerns regarding harassment or abuse occurring in the workplace.

Over the last year, it has become more common for employees to quit for COVID-19-related reasons, such as lack of child care availability and workplace health and safety concerns.

Whether those reasons for quitting constitute good cause will depend on a number of factors. California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) provides an explanation of these factors in its Benefit Determination Guide, Voluntary Quit volume.

For example, an employee who quits due to lack of child care must show the EDD that they were “left with no practical alternative to quitting.” According to the EDD, “arranging care with neighbors, relatives, friends, a nursery school, or day care service are considered practical alternatives to quitting. Therefore, faced with loss of existing child care, a claimant would generally be expected to explore all of these alternatives prior to quitting.”

Given the unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, with widespread shutdown of schools and day care facilities, and relatives and friends limiting their exposure to other people, many employees who have young children are able to convince the EDD that they had no practical alternative to quitting their job.

Additionally, an employee who quits because they don’t feel safe returning to the workplace might be able to show good cause in two circumstances.

According to the EDD, an employee could have good cause to quit if their employer did not follow industry guidance for safely reopening, as long as the employee first brought their concerns to the employer and allowed the employer an opportunity to fix the situation if they could reasonably do so.

Good cause also could be found if the employee feels unsafe returning to the workplace because they are at greater personal risk for COVID-19 due to their age or serious chronic health conditions.

Read more about Unemployment Insurance Benefits and COVID-19 in the HR Library.

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