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29. Were There Urgent and Compelling Personal Reasons Causing the Claimant to Leave Work?

ALERT:   IN LIGHT OF THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY, ASPECTS OF THE UI PROCESS HAVE BEEN MODIFIED.  VISIT https://www.masslegalservices.org/covid-19-and-ui FOR CURRENT INFORMATION.

Claimants who leave work due to “urgent, compelling, and necessitous circumstances” leave involuntarily and are eligible to receive UI benefits under G.L. c. 151A § 25(e), ¶3; AH c. 7, § 4. There are no hard-and-fast rules regarding what constitutes urgent, compelling and necessitous circumstances for leaving a job; such determinations are largely driven by the facts of the individual case. AH c. 7, § 1C.4. “The nature of the circumstances in each case, the strength and the effect of the compulsive pressure of external and objective forces must be evaluated, and if they are sufficiently potent, they become relevant and controlling factors.”  Reep v. Commissioner of the Dept. of Employment & Training, 412 Mass. 845, 848, 593 N.E. 2d 1297 (1992). However, a review examiner would typically find that certain general categories meet the definition and the courts have held that a wide variety of personal circumstances have been recognized as constituting “urgent, compelling and necessitous” reasons.

For example, an employee who must leave work due to illness or the need for treatment (including treatment for alcoholism), to escape domestic violence, or due to family responsibilities, such as to care for an ill family member or because childcare arrangements unexpectedly collapse, may do so for compelling personal reasons and, if so, should not be disqualified. See Norfolk County Retirement System v. Director of the Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development, 66 Mass. App. Ct. 759, 765, 850 N.E. 2d 1079 (2006)(collecting cases); Raytheon Co. v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 364 Mass. 593, 307 N.E.2d 330 (1974); BR-0027 2835 41 (1/14/19) BR-1576384 (5/15/14). In another case, an employer‑imposed schedule change interfered with the claimant’s childcare responsibilities, and the court remanded the case to consider whether the claimant’s domestic responsibilities meant that his leaving work was involuntary. Zukoski v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 390 Mass. 1009, 459 N.E.2d 467 (1984). In such situations, however, the employee will be expected to explore other, less drastic alternatives before quitting. The most common expectation is that the claimant will request a leave of absence, unless it would be futile to do so. (See Question 30.) The Board held that the claimant’s decision to leave work in order to care for her ailing grandmother, who lived in New Jersey, was involuntary. It made no difference that her grandmother later moved to Massachusetts or that her health eventually improved because the standard is whether claimant acted reasonably at the time of her resignation. The claimant also tried without success to preserve her job before quitting, including requesting a leave of absence in lieu of resigning. BR - 0002 4578 04 (12/31/2013).The Board held that a claimant who was pregnant who could not perform heavy lifting had an urgent, compelling, and necessitous reason for quitting when her employer’s only offer to accommodate her medical necessity was to reduce her hours, without providing any relief from lifting heavy items. BR - 0014 5404 50 (8/17/15).

Childcare needs and domestic responsibilities also can render a separation involuntary. Manias v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 388 Mass. 201, 204, 445 N.E. 2d 1068 (1983).  In a case where a claimant left her job after learning that she would not be able to change her hours to make them compatible with her childcare needs, the Board held that her separation was involuntary. BR - 0002 4383 77 (12/3/13).

Not being able to afford childcare can also make leave involuntary. The Board also held that a claimant’s need to leave work just before her scheduled return from maternity leave was involuntary because she could not afford childcare services as a working, single parent. BR - 0002 1624 00 (6/19/14). And the Adjudication Handbook recognizes that continued employment may be impossible where severe documented financial hardship (e.g., rent past due notices, eviction notices, bank statements, medical bills) causes a claimant to move to a new location beyond commuting distance, making continued employment impossible. AH c. 7, § 4B.8.

The Board of Review has held that a claimant’s leaving was involuntary where the claimant’s mental health condition rendered him unable not only to perform his job but also to make any efforts to preserve his job. BR-110773 (1/27/2010) (Key). A claimant who resigned because he reasonably believed that his job had a negative impact on his health and he had already taken a leave of absence, left for urgent, compelling reasons.  BR-95712-FE (3/16/2005). The Board of Review held that a claimant suffering from severe mental disorders who believed his mental condition would lead to discharge left involuntarily and his illness prevented compliance with the obligation to preserve employment.  BR - 0014 6325 82 1/715).

Similarly, the Board has held that a claimant’s separation was involuntary where the claimant’s mental state was impaired at the time of resignation because her pain medication rendered her unable to think rationally about quitting. BR-671940 (2/13/2014). The Board noted that even if claimant was aware of the obligation to try and preserve employment, she was not able to do so at the time due to significant impairment. Id.  The Board of Review held that a claimant with mental disorders had urgent reasons to quit mid-shift when she experienced a severe panic attack and she lacked the capacity to make efforts to preserve her job at the time she walked out. BR-0015 9657 00 (5/17/16).

Additionally, the Board held that a claimant’s leaving was involuntary where the claimant was vomiting blood from an ulcer and the doctor advised a less stressful job, so long as claimant reasonably believed the condition was caused by work. The Board noted that verification from the doctor was not necessary. BR-1233626 (12/27/12). The Board of Review also held that a claimant’s stress about her husband’s major illness was sufficient to establish that the claimant left work at a funeral home for urgent, compelling, and necessitous reasons.  BR - 0015 8288 32 (12/23/15). 

Note 1: Leaving for urgent, compelling, necessitous reasons may prompt an inquiry as to whether the claimant is able to work and available for work. (See Question 8.)

Note 2: If the employee’s reason for leaving was an urgent, compelling, and necessitous one, the employer’s experience rating is not charged and the UI payments are made from the UI Solvency Fund, unless the employer is self-insured. G.L. c. 151A, § 14(d)(3).

Note 3: Advocates should review AH, c. 7, § 4B for other examples of involuntary leaving that are not disqualifying, such as moving with a family member to escape the threat of domestic or gang violence or to avoid homelessness, or where a claimant under the age of 18 moves with their parents. Although a longstanding exception has included moving with a spouse serving in the armed services, an Appeals Court decision erroneously noted (based on a mistaken fact submitted by DUA Counsel) that this provision has been repealed. DiGiulio v. Director of Dep’t of Unemployment Assistance, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 292, n. 4, 113 N.E. 3d 850 (2018).  The DUA Legal Department has confirmed that this provision has not been repealed and legislation is pending to codify this requirement. See AH c. 7, §4B.6.

Other common reasons of an “urgent, compelling, and necessitous” nature are described in the following sections.