Un-employment Laws




If you voluntarily quit your job or have been terminated for good cause, it is unlikely your employer will approve your unemployment benefits. There are exceptions however, and you may have a lawsuit for wronful termination against your employer and/or be entitled to unemployment benefits.  For more detailed information please call the Law Offices of Michael R. St. Louis at 781-816-3950 or contact us online.




  Mass.Unemployment Advocacy Guide




As of October 2010, the maximum benefit rate in Massachusetts was $625 per week (not including an additional allowance of $25 per dependent); the maximum benefit is adjusted annually on October 1. Generally, the benefit rate paid to qualified workers is one-half of the claimant’s average weekly gross wages up to the weekly maximum, plus the dependency allowance. Massachusetts provides upto 30 weeks of coverage to each eligible claimant (up to 26 weeks when there is a federal extension in effect). Claimants who are in a DUA-approved training program, who have been laid off because of a plant closing, or who have lost their jobs due to NAFTA and other foreign competition may also be entitled to additional federal or state benefits. (See Unemployment Advocacy Guide  manual - Question 54). Massachusetts also provides health insurance coverage for claimants receiving UI. (See Unemployment Advocacy guide Manual - Question 53). Unemployment benefits are generally taxable income for both federal and Massachusetts state tax purposes.




Who Is Covered by Unemployment Insurance?




Almost every employer in Massachusetts takes part in the unemployment insurance program, and almost every worker is covered. All employees within the Commonwealth are covered by the Massachusetts UI law (G.L. c. 151A) with the exception of those types of employees listed in G.L. c. 151A, § 6 (such as employees of churches, trainees at certain nonprofit organizations, work-study jobholders at a college or university, certain federal employees, prison inmates and certain agricultural laborers). Employee, not independent contractor The UI law carries a strong presumption that a claimant is an employee, and not an independent contractor. (See Unemployment Advocacy Guilde Manual -Question 39 ) for the test employed by DUA to distinguish an independent contractor from an employee.




What Questions Does DUA Ask in Discharge Cases?




DUA typically asks the following questions to ascertain UI eligibility in discharg cases:


1. Why was the employee discharged?


2. Do you have a rule or policy regarding this offense?





3. Did the claimant know of the company rule or policy?


4. How did the claimant know of the company rule?


5. Was the rule uniformly enforced? How were incidents like this handled in the past?


6. Was the rule reasonable?


7. Was the application of the rule reasonable?


8. Was the rule violation a result of the claimant’s incompetence?





9. Was the conduct deliberate? Was there an intentional act of omission on the part of the claimant?


10. What was the employer’s expectation?


11. How did the claimant know of the expectation?


12. Was there any extenuating circumstance that was the cause of the behavior?





13. Were any warnings issued? If so: When? How many? By whom? What was the content? Copy of warning given in writing or was warning verbal?




Did the Claimant Quit Voluntarily and Without Good Cause Attributable to the Employer?



An employee who quits his or her job voluntarily and “without good cause attributable to the employing unit or its agents” is subject to disqualification pursuant to G.L. c. 151A, § 25(e)(1). Where a claimant is determined to have quit or resigned, the burden of proving eligibility is on the claimant to establish that he or she left either involuntarily, or for good cause attributable to the employer, such that the claimant is unemployed through no fault of his or her own. Sohler v.Director of the Div. of Employment Sec.,377 Mass. 785, 788 n.1, 388 N.E.2d 299,301 n. 1 (1979).



In most cases an employee must make efforts to maintain the employment relationship before quitting the job or risk that the quit will be treated as voluntary regardless of the underlying reasons. Harassment cases present a notable exception. See Unemployment Advocacy guilde - Manual Questions26 and 27. The agency position is not uniform on whether a person who is subjected to other violations of law in the workplace must first attempt to resolve the problem before quitting. Arguably, an employer is charged with knowledge of wage and hour laws and so should have been aware of the violation. Lee v. OLeary, Director of the Div. of Unemployment Assistance, Quincy District Court, (Coven, J., Docket No. 0556 CV 2136, decided 11/1/06)-(finding that claimant had good cause for quitting where payroll policy violated Massachusetts wage laws).





Was the Separation Voluntary?




A separation that is not “voluntary” will not subject a claimant to disqualification under G.L. c. 151A § 25(e)(1). A separation is considered voluntary if an employee simply chooses to leave his or her employment. A separation is not voluntary if it was:


coerced or required by the employer;


caused by circumstances beyond the claimant’s control; or


for “urgent, compelling and necessitous” reasons .G.L. c. 151A, § 25(e). These factors are more fully discussed in the following sections.




Was the Separation Coerced or Required by the Employer?




Did the Employee Quit in Reasonable Anticipation of Being Fired or Otherwise Discharged from Employment?A separation is not voluntary if it is imposed by the employer. An employee who leaves work because of a reasonable belief that he or she is about to be fired willnot be disqualified under G.L. c. 151A, § 25(e)(1).In both Malone-Campagna v. Director of the Div. of Employment Sec., 391 Mass. 399, 461 N.E.2d 818 (1984) (employees who had collectively resigned claimed at the hearing that they did so because they believed they were about to be discharged for refusing to conform to new, unlawful policies implemented by the employer), and Scannevin v. Director of the Div. of Employment Sec., 396 Mass. 1010, 487 N.E.2d 203 (1986) (employee believed he was about to be fired and so failed to submit medical document required to preserve his job), remands were required for findings as to whether the claimants’ beliefs that they were about to be fired were reasonable. In Gabovitch v. Jurczak, 76 Mass. App. Ct. 1109, 920 N.E.2d 88 (2010) (unpublished), the Appeals Court affirmed a lower court ruling that the employee reasonably believed that her job was coming to an end due to the dissolution of the employing partnership and that she left work for good cause attributable to the employer and was therefore eligible for UI benefits. If the employer gives the claimant the alternative of quitting or being discharged and he or she chooses to resign, the claimant will not be disqualified under G.L. c. 151A, § 25(e)(1), but if DUA determines that the intended discharge would have been for misconduct or a rule violation, the claimant may be disqualified under § 25(e)(2). Although it is not an unemployment case, practitioners should be aware of the SJC’s decision in Upton v. JWP Businessland, 425 Mass. 756, 682 N.E.2d 1357 (1997), holding that it was not a violation of public policy to terminate an employee at will who, due to her responsibilities as a single parent of a young child, could not work the additional overtime hours which her employer required. The court did note, however, that the legislature has directed that unemployment should be available where domestic responsibilities limit a person’s availability to work. 425 Mass. at 756. Therefore, if the employee were discharged, she should not be disqualified under §25(e)(2), and if she resigned in anticipation of discharge, she should not be disqualified under §25(e)(1).






 If you have been wrongfully discharged, denied unemployment benefits or have any employment issue, please call the Law Offices of Michael R. St. Louis for a free consultation at 781-816-3950 or contact us online.





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