Can I get unemployment benefits if I quit my job to care for my injured child?

Question:

My daughter was hit by a car several weeks ago. She needed immediate surgery and is now recuperating at home. I had a couple of weeks of PTO, which I used. But when I asked my boss for more time off, he refused. We are a small company, and I can understand that he can't afford to have someone out for weeks at a time. I figured that quitting would look better than being fired when I go to look for a new job. Can I still get unemployment benefits if I quit for this reason? I live and work in California.

Answer:

In California, as in other states, applicants are eligible for unemployment benefits as long as they are out of work through no fault of their own (and meet the state's earnings and work requirements). In all states, if you quit voluntarily, without a compelling reason, you won't be eligible for benefits. However, each state defines "compelling reason" a bit differently.

California is generous in this regard. If you quit for compelling family or health reasons, such as to take care of a sick family member, you will typically still be eligible for benefits. In your situation, if your child needs ongoing care and you are the only one who can provide it, the fact that you quit probably won't render you ineligible for benefits.

However, there's another potential bar to recovering unemployment. To collect benefits in California, and in other states, you must be "able and available" to work. And you must be actively seeking work. If you are completely unable to work while you are caring for your daughter, you may be denied benefits for this reason.

Even if you are unable to collect unemployment compensation, you may still be in luck. California has a temporary disability insurance program that includes paid family leave (PFL). This state insurance program pays employees a percentage of their usual salaries for the time they are unable to work because they must care for a seriously ill family member, including a child. The program pays up to six weeks of benefits.

Once these benefits run out, your child may be sufficiently recovered that you are once again able and available to work. At that point, you may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.

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