A worker who leaves his job voluntarily for another one is not entitled to unemployment compensation from his former employer if the new job doesn't work out, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
The 4-3 ruling could have wide implications for workers across the state as they seek better jobs and pay.
The decision reversed rulings by Montgomery County Circuit Court and the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which administers the compensation law.
The case involves Gary C. Miller, a manager for one year at Total Audio-Visual Systems Inc., who joined a competitor that offered an $8,000-a-year pay raise and a higher percentage of profits. Total Audio-Visual, which was paying him $32,000 and a percentage of profits, declined to match the offer.
Miller was soon laid off by his new employer, and he filed for unemployment compensation.
Because he had not been at his new job long enough to collect benefits, the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation awarded him compensation from his previous employer, Total Audio-Visual. The company appealed to the Circuit Court, which sided with Miller.
The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation argued that Miller had left for good cause, a better salary, and was eligible under the law for the unemployment benefits. The department also said workers should not be penalized for seeking professional advancement.
Writing for the Court of Appeals majority, Chief Judge Robert M. Bell said Miller was not eligible for unemployment benefits because he left Total Audio-Visual voluntarily for the new job and, in fact, started the new job.
"A plain reading of [the law] makes it clear that leaving employment for a better-paying job does not constitute `good cause,'" Bell wrote.
Judge Dale R. Cathell, writing for the dissenters, said it was unfair "to require an employee to immediately abandon the unemployment insurance benefits he has earned and acquired by virtue of his past performance if he attempts to better himself by moving to a better job."
Claire O. Ducker, Total Audio-Visual's attorney, said the ruling is in line with those in Washington, Delaware and New Jersey. In similar cases, Pennsylvania and New York courts sided with workers.
"He had a good job and he chose to quit," Ducker said. "They have to accept the risk."