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Workers Compensation Benefits

A New Jersey court denied workers compensation benefits to an employee of a church-operated charity on the ground that she left her job voluntarily without good cause.

Key point 8-02. All states have enacted workers compensation laws to provide benefits to employees who are injured or become ill in the course of their employment. Benefits generally are financed through insurance premiums paid by employers. Churches are subject to workers compensation laws in most states.

* A New Jersey court denied workers compensation benefits to an employee of a church-operated charity on the ground that she left her job voluntarily without good cause. An employee (the plaintiff) of a church-operated charity took a medical leave of absence as a result of the effects of hypertension and diabetes. The plaintiff later had her doctor send a letter to her supervisor indicating that she could return to work for up to 30 hours per week. When the charity responded that the plaintiff's position was a full-time position, requiring more time on the job than thirty hours per week, she agreed to obtain a note from her doctor indicating that she could return to work on a full-time basis. When no such doctor's note was submitted, her employment was terminated. The plaintiff sued for workers compensation benefits. The New Jersey workers compensation law mandates the payment of benefits to employees who are injured, or who become ill, in the course of their employment. However, the workers compensation law denies benefits to an employee "for the week in which the individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work, and for each week thereafter until the individual becomes reemployed and works four weeks in employment."

The charity asserted that the plaintiff had "left work voluntarily without good cause" and therefore was barred from receiving workers compensation benefits. A state court agreed:

In scrutinizing an employee's reason for leaving, the test is one of ordinary common sense and prudence. Mere dissatisfaction with working conditions which are not shown to be abnormal or do not affect health, does not constitute good cause for leaving work voluntarily. The decision to leave employment must be compelled by real, substantial and reasonable circumstances not imaginary trifling and whimsical ones …. It is the employee's responsibility to do what is necessary and reasonable in order to remain employed.

The court noted that the plaintiff was hired to work full-time; that medically she could not continue to do so; and that, by advising her employer that "she could only remain part-time with no date to resume working full-time," she "severed the employment relationship, voluntarily leaving the job without good cause attributable to the work." Covington v. Board Of Review, 2007 WL 249251 (N.J. Super. 2006).

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • July 1, 2007

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