My company is forcing me to do unethical things, can I quit and receive unemployment benefits.

I work for a school. They have been accepting federal student loans for students. Instead of returning the overage, they have been paying employee's and bills and then bouncing the stipend checks written to students. When there are no more student loans to use, they bounce my paycheck or pay late. Can I quit my job and still get unemployment since their actions are unethical. I am in charge of recruitment of new students.

2 answers  |  asked Nov 20, 2015 8:59 PM [EST]  |  applies to California

Answers (2)

Marilynn Mika Spencer
Respectfully, I do not agree with Mr. Itkin. He may be correct, but there isn't enough information in the asker's question to know for sure, and there is strong indication that the asker might qualify for benefits.

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) and the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (UIAB) generally defines "good cause" for a voluntary resignation as a situation that would cause a reasonable employee in the employee's shoes to resign. When an employer violates the law with respect to paying wages, UIAB has found the employee has good cause to quit.

In this instance, if "they bounce my paycheck or pay late," the employee is forced to work under circumstances that violate the California Labor Code and the Wage Orders. Perhaps if the employee's paycheck bounced once a long time ago, and perhaps if wages were paid late by one day, one time, a long time ago, then there would not be good cause to quit. We don't know that here. The phrasing of the asker's question indicates the pay problems are a repeated occurrence. If that is true, the asker may indeed qualify for benefits. But there isn't enough information in the question to make that call.

Additionally, an employee is not required to work under most illegal or immoral circumstances, even if the employee is not personally affected. For example, suppose an employee works at a workplace replete with racial discrimination. Perhaps the employee is not of the race that suffers the discrimination, but has to see it and remain silent about it every day. Is an employee required to work under such conditions? I don't believe so. Perhaps it is a matter of degree, but it's hard to argue that a little bit of illegality is okay.

Also, it isn't clear whether the asker is or is not personally affected. The asker is in charge of recruiting new students, and past of any student recruitment these days involves student loans. The asker may well be required to mislead or lie to potential students as a condition of employment.

The EDD and the UIAB require an employee to try to resolve intolerable working conditions before resigning. But in a situation where there is institutional illegality that appears part of the employer's business methodology, such efforts would be meaningless. An employee is not required to engage in futile efforts to get an employer to pay attention to the law.

Finally, if the asker is required to work without being paid as required, then the employee may have a valid claim for constructive discharge, which is equivalent to being fired. The asker may actually have a claim for far more than just unemployment benefits.

In short, I suggest this asker speak with one or more experienced employment law attorneys with whom he or she can discuss the details of this situation. There appears to be a lot to discuss.

Marilynn Mika Spencer
San Diego, CA

posted by Marilynn Mika Spencer  |  Nov 21, 2015 2:45 PM [EST]
Arkady Itkin
Chances are you will not qualify for benefits. The potential ethical violations do not concern you directly and do not seem to affect you directly, so to meet the necessary "good cause for resignation" standard to qualify for benefits would be hard, if not impossible under the circumstances.

posted by Arkady Itkin  |  Nov 21, 2015 09:42 AM [EST]

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