To Voluntarily Quit May Prohibit Benefits
When we are separated from a job in Oklahoma or anywhere, it is usually because either we are fired or we quit.
But there is a long continuum between being fired and voluntarily quitting. That gray area is where most of the benefits cases are litigated. Benefits are meant to help an employee who separates from employment through no fault of their own.
This is what the law in Oklahoma says: A person will be disqualified from benefits for voluntarily leaving his or her last position without good cause connected to the job. Okla. Stat. tit. 40 § 2-404
The question in this gray area is always what constitutes good cause. Good cause is defined under Oklahoma law as conditions that may include a working condition that has changed to such an extent that it is harmful or adverse to a person’s health, safety, or morals. It also can mean that the employee is being treated substantially unfairly by the employer, or that the employer has created substantially difficult working conditions.
Finally, it also can mean that the employee has elected to separate from work under a collective bargaining agreement or another employer plan that permits the employee to do so and the employer has agreed. Okla. Stat. tit. 40 § 2-405
Burden of Proof
When an employee voluntarily quits and seeks benefits, the burden to show that he or she is entitled to them usually falls to the employee. The employee must show that good cause existed for him or her to quit. The employee will meet that burden of proof if they can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that good cause existed.
Case Law Applications
An employee (Glen) had once served in a managerial position with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission — or OESC — for 16 years. She had high work evaluations and a master’s degree. She supervised another employee, Radford. Radford had a poor work history and only two years of college. Glen and Radford both applied for an upper-level management position, which was given to Radford. Glen was now to be supervised by an employee she had supervised, and Glen’s workload was to be increased substantially.
Glen was then diagnosed with a severe reactive depression and advised by her treating doctors to quit her job. She attempted to return to work but found the job untenable, and so resigned. It was held that the employee showed good cause for quitting. Her health problems were related to the employer’s decision to promote a less-qualified male employee, forcing Glen to quit. (Glen v. OESC, 782 P2d 150 (Okla. App. 1989))
No benefits were allowed in a case in which a federal employee elected to retire under a voluntary incentive downsizing program. The employee accepted a severance bonus and had no reason to believe that she would be terminated if and when the employer was forced to have a reduction in force.
Accepting the severance was a bona fide choice for this employee. There was no “good cause” for quitting, and the separation was voluntary. Thus, benefits were denied. (OESC v. Bd. of Rev. for OESC, 914 P2d 1083 (Okla. App. 1996))
When you are trying to determine whether you qualify for benefits, it is important to know that not every severance is really voluntary. In situations where the employee has good cause to quit, the law will often allow benefits. Thus, your benefits may rest on seemingly insignificant facts. Bring your questions and concerns to an experienced Oklahoma unemployment expert. Only an experienced benefits attorney will know how best to advise you.
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