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February 11, 2004

State labor department reverses UI benefits eligibility ruling

The New York State Labor Department will now support paying unemployment benefits in some cases where an unmarried individual involved in long-term relationship leaves a jobs to follow a partner to another locality.

In a letter dated February 9, the Labor Department’s counsel, Jerome Tracy, told the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board that an unmarried individual who leaves a job to follow a partner can qualify for unemployment benefits “provided sufficient proof of a long-term committed relationship exists."

The letter came two years after a ruling that rejected the benefits claim of a Rochester woman who quit her job to follow her partner to Virginia.

Before 1987, jobless benefits were denied to any individual who voluntarily left employment without "good cause." That law was amended in 1987 to allow a married individual to claim unemployment benefits if leaving a job to follow a spouse to another area.

"The Department thereupon established a policy that provided that voluntary leaving employment to follow a spouse could be 'good cause' under the appropriate circumstances," the letter said.

"This policy recognizes that there exist in certain long-term committed relationships certain financial, legal and emotional commitments that justify voluntarily separating from employment to follow a marital partner. However, this rationale can apply equally to persons who are in a committed unmarried relationship, so long as there are objective indicia that demonstrate that financial, legal and emotional commitments exist to justify a claimant voluntarily separating from employment to follow an unmarried partner," the letter said.

"The Department of Labor has therefore changed its policy in this area to recognize that unmarried partners may also have 'good cause' for leaving a job to follow their partners, provided sufficient proof of a long term committed relationship exists," the letter concluded.

"Employers are paying benefits to thousands of New Yorkers who want to work but are unemployed," said Elliott Shaw, The Council's director of government affairs. "They should not be forced to pay for the personal choices of employees who quit a job voluntarily.”