Tackling a scenario in which lower courts have reached diverging opinions, the New Jersey Supreme Court is considering whether a worker can receive unemployment benefits after a second job has failed to pan out.
The court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the matter of a registered nurse who left one job for health reasons to take a desk job with another employer, but lost that job after she failed a qualification exam.
The petitioner, Margo Ardon, is appealing a decision by the Board of Review of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development denying her application for benefits.
Ardon worked for Lourdes Medical Center from September 2010 to November 2012, when she resigned to take a desk job with Alliance Healthcare. Ardon had decided to leave Lourdes because of neck, back and knee problems, which made it difficult to perform her work, part of which involved moving heavy patients.
According to documents, she started work with Alliance within five days, but was fired after seven weeks because she was unable to pass a job performance test. She then applied for unemployment benefits, which Lourdes challenged, largely because Ardon never gave the hospital a reason for quitting.
Ardon’s attorney, Sarah Hymowitz, said Ardon deserved unemployment benefits.
“There are remedial and humanitarian goals” in the unemployment compensation statutes, said Hymowitz, of Legal Services of New Jersey.
Justice Walter Timpone asked whether Ardon’s failure to pass the qualification test at Alliance should affect her position.
Hymowitz said no. “It’s not considered her fault,” she said. “It’s not intentional misconduct.”
Justice Anne Patterson noted that Ardon made no effort to consult with Lourdes to determine if there were other positions available that would accommodate her condition.
Hymowitz said Ardon knew already that there were no permanent “light-duty” positions and that she did not have the educational qualifications for other desk work.
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Hamner said Ardon did not qualify for unemployment benefits.
“She bears the burden of preserving her employment,” Hamner said. “To that end, she did nothing.”
Employees, he said, have the responsibility of doing what they can to maintain constant employment.
“The employer had no idea she was leaving because of a medical condition,” Hamner said.
Cindy Perr, Lourdes’ associate general counsel, said Ardon should have consulted with the hospital before she left her job.
“She did not engage in the interactive process,” Perr said.
Had Lourdes known that Ardon had medical issues with performing her job, the hospital would have been required to at least make attempts to accommodate her condition, Perr said.
“We’re not sure why she applied for unemployment benefits,” she said.
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