Parental and Family Obligations Disqualify Unemployment Eligibility

Ohio unemployment benefits will be denied to those who are forced to quit due to family obligations.  As a result, employers are able to change schedules regardless of the impact on an employee and their need to care for their children, and the employee who finds themselves with the Hobson's choice of abandoning their children to keep their job, or resigning and being left without unemployment compensation to care for their family while they search for new work.

Ohio Revised Code Section 4141.29(D)(2)(c) provides, that an employee is disqualified from unemployment benefits if "(c) Such individual quit work to marry or because of marital, parental, filial, or other domestic obligations."  In these circumstances, the typical standard of determining whether an employee has just cause to resign, and is therefore eligible, is abandoned.  “Just cause” for quitting work is that which, to ordinarily intelligent person, is a justifiable reason for resigning.  That is, rather than evaluating whether an ordinarily intelligent person would be justified in believing they had to resign, this statute requires ODJFS to ignore the reasonableness and justification for the employee's decision when it is related to a family obligation.

For example, when a parent is not protected by FMLA (e.g., due to the small size of an employer), and is not permitted leave when they are having a child, their resulting forced resignation will disqualify them from benefits.  Robey v. McMichael, 2009 Ohio 5834 (8th Dist.).  If an employer changes a work schedule, forcing their employee to work second shift or overnight when that employee is required to care for their children, that employee will be denied unemployment when they are forced to resign.  Examples of when an employee's schedule is important to allow them to care for their family members is endless, yet an employer is not only free to force the employee to resign by changing their schedule, but they also escape any claims against their unemployment account.

Challenges were raised to the Constitutionality of this restriction, claiming it violated the right to due process and equal protection.  However, this challenge has been rejected on the logic that the language is gender neutral.  Goodrich v. Ohio Unemp. Comp. Rev. Comms., 2012 Ohio 467 (10th Dist.). 

When an employer does change an employee's schedule, there may be room for an employee to argue they have just cause to resign when an employer misrepresents the hours an employee will be required to work (e.g., Ro-Mai Industries, Inc. v. Weinberg, 176 Ohio App.3d 151, 2008-Ohio-301 (9th Dist.)); however, this would seem to be helpful only in those limited circumstances when an employee knew of or foresaw family emergencies/illness at the time of hire and specifically negotiated their schedule.

Unemployment compensation is critical to prevent evictions, foreclosures, and for that matter hunger, while employees who find themselves out of work through no fault of their own seek new work.  This is one example of the unemployment system allowing employees to fall through the cracks, when they find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own. 

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