In general, employees who resign are not eligible to collect unemployment insurance benefits. In North Carolina as with most states, the unemployment compensation law contains an exception for workers who resign for “a good cause attributable to the employer.” Last month, the North Carolina Supreme Court concluded that an employee who quit due to his medical restrictions did not do so for reasons attributable to the employer.
In In re Lennane, the claimant was a service technician for a home security and alarm company. His job included installation as well as customer service calls. He injured his knee on the job, and was subsequently advised by his doctor to avoid climbing and crawling that were part of his job duties. In response, the claimant advised his employer of the medical advice, and asked to have his job duties modified to eliminate these activities. The employer declined this request, but offered him a transfer to another more sedentary position in another city. The claimant declined this offer, subsequently resigned, and filed for unemployment benefits.
This request was denied by the Employment Security Commission, and the claimant eventually appealed this determination to the state Supreme Court. The court affirmed denial of the benefits, concluding that he did not resign for good reason attributable to the employer. The court acknowledged that the employer had modified the service technician job description the previous year to add more physically demanding activities, but noted that this change was independent of the claimant’s medical situation. The employer attempted to address his concerns by offering a transfer. The employer’s failure to agree to the specific accommodation requested by the plaintiff did not create good reason for him to resign.
This decision may impact a number of pending unemployment benefit claims relating to employees who resigned for medical reasons related to potential COVID-19 exposure. In the absence of specific evidence relating to an employer’s refusal to work with an employee with medical restrictions, the fact that those restrictions do not allow the employee to continue working will not make him or her eligible for unemployment benefits.