Unemployment Compensation in a Time of Increasing Work-Family Conflicts

The demographics of the workplace have changed substantially since the nation’s unemployment insurance system was enacted in the 1930s. The number of dual-earner and single-parent families has increased dramatically. Yet, the basic requirements for eligibility for unemployment compensation have not varied much since their initial enactment. In this Article, Professor Malin explores the availability of benefits to individuals who lose their jobs because of conflicts between work and family responsibilities and to unemployed individuals whose family responsibilities restrict the types of jobs that they are able to take. He finds that the states have differed greatly concerning the degree to which they will recognize family responsibilities as a relevant consideration in evaluating employees’ behavior said to disqualify them from benefits. Some states reach seemingly anomalous results, such as granting benefits to employees fired for defying employer directives that conflict with their family responsibilities but denying benefits to employees who quit when faced with such directives. Professor Malin analyzes the benefits eligibility requirements and finds that disqualifications for discharges for misconduct, quits without just cause attributable to the employer, unavailability for work, and rejections of suitable employment operationalize the restriction of unemployment benefits to job losers, rather than job leavers. He observes, however, that these terms are laden with value judgments. He traces an emerging public justice value judgment that employers may no longer demand absolute adherence to their directives without regard for employee family responsibilities. He finds this value judgment evident in family leave and related legislation and in arbitration awards concerning discipline under collective bargaining agreements. He provides a framework for analyzing the unemployment compensation claims of individuals whose family responsibilities have caused them to lose their jobs or to restrict the types of jobs for which they are available.