Labor Law – Right to Unemployment Compensation as Affected by Union-Management Retirement Agreement

Under what circumstances has an employee “voluntarily” left work so as to disqualify him from receiving benefits under an unemployment compensation act? This general question has troubled the courts for a considerable time and has presented itself in a variety of fact situations, e.g., leaving work because of labor disputes and for personal reasons. The courts’ interpretation of the meaning of “voluntarily” has generally been influenced by numerous considerations such as the policy behind unemployment compensation, the specific terminology of the statute involved, and the procedure for financing the plans. The specific problem with which this comment deals is summarized in the following question: when an employee leaves his employment by reason of a union contract calling for his retirement by the employer at a given age plus receipt of a pension, is such employee barred from benefits under an unemployment compensation act because his leaving is “voluntary”? The decisions of the administrative and judicial bodies that have dealt with this issue have been far from unanimous. Since a basic knowledge of the typical unemployment compensation act is necessary for an understanding of the problem, an attempt will be made to summarize those statutory provisions which are pertinent. An examination will then be made of the reasoning by which the courts, tribunals and writers reach one or the other result. Finally, there will be singled out for particular attention some of the analytical fallacies and pitfalls which tend to obscure the real issues and complicate the process by which decisions in this area are reached.