On March 18, 2015 the New Jersey Appellate Division issued an opinion regarding the factors the Department of Labor should consider in determining the eligibility of a person to receive unemployment insurance benefits when he or she has quit work for reasons related to domestic violence. L.C. v. Board of Review, Docket No. A-5997-12T2 (App. Div. March 16, 2015).

Since 1961, NJ’s unemployment insurance laws have generally disqualified claimants from receiving benefits if they "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work." Personal reasons for quitting unrelated to work, regardless of how compelling, did not warrant benefits. In 2000, however, the Legislature created an exception for workers who leave work because they are victims of domestic violence. L. 1999, c. 391, § 1 (1999 Law), codified atN.J.S.A. 43:21-5(j).

The statute includes two essential elements. First, a claimant must establish that he or she is a victim of domestic violence as defined in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (the “Act”), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19. Second, the claimant must establish that the loss of employment, by quitting or discharge, was causally related to being a victim. The key statutory provision states; “notwithstanding any other provisions of this chapter... no otherwise eligible individual shall be denied benefits because the individual left work or was discharged due to circumstances resulting from the individual being a victim of domestic violence as defined [in the Act]...” N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(j).

Further, the statute identifies six categories of evidence that suffice as proof of being a victim of an act of domestic violence. These include: (1) a restraining order; (2) a police record documenting the domestic violence; (3) documentation that the perpetrator has been convicted of an act of domestic violence one or more times; (4) medical documentation; (5) certification from a certified Domestic Violence Specialist or director of a designated domestic violence agency; or (6) other documentation or certification of the domestic violence provided by a social worker, member of the clergy, shelter worker or other professional who has assisted the individual in dealing with the domestic violence.

In L.C., the victim claimed she quit her job at a bank and moved to Utah to flee an abusive ex-spouse. The Board of Review, Department of Labor (“Board”) affirmed the determination of the Appeal Tribunal (Tribunal) that L.C. had presented insufficient evidence that she was a victim of domestic violence. L.C. appealed the ruling, challenging that the Board and Tribunal erred in their refusal to consider a letter from her divorce lawyer, which identified various acts of domestic violence by her estranged husband.

The Appellate Division, in an opinion approved for publication, held that the Board should have considered a certification from L.C.'s attorney under the 1999 Law and reversed and remanded the case for a new hearing.

Notably, the Court concluded that an attorney is an acceptable source of “documentation or [a] certification of the domestic violence,” stating that an attorney who represents an individual or otherwise counsels an individual as to his or her rights and remedies in a case of domestic violence qualifies under the statute. The Court further determined that written evidence of domestic violence, if drafted for the purpose of supporting the unemployment insurance claim, should be in the form of a certification, consistent with New Jersey Court Rule 1:6-6.

Finally, in coming to its decision, the Court emphasized the salutary effect of the 2000 amendment, recognizing that the amendment’s purpose is to have a “positive social impact in that it will prevent economic concerns from causing victims of domestic violence to hesitate in taking all appropriate actions in order to protect their personal safety in what may potentially be life-threatening situations.” [32 N.J.R. 1699A90 (May 15, 2000).]

As the express purpose of the statute is to alleviate certain economic concerns of a victim of domestic violence, the Court determined that the certification from the attorney personally involved in L.C.’s divorce litigation should have been reviewed by the Board and Tribunal before a decision was made as to whether the victim was entitled to unemployment benefits.

For more information, please contact Jed L. Marcus.

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