In Campbell v. State of Washington Employment Security Department, a unanimous Washington Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Department of Employment Security (Department) that a school teacher who quit his job in June 2010, to accompany his wife in February 2011 to Finland on her Fulbright grant, did not qualify for unemployment benefits under RCW 50.20.050(2)(b)(iii) because it was unreasonable to quit seven months before the planned relocation.

An individual who wants to collect unemployment benefits must demonstrate that he left work voluntarily and with good cause.  RCW 50.20.050(2)(a).  If an employee quits to follow a spouse, he must prove that he “(A) Left work to relocate for the employment of a spouse or domestic partner that is outside the existing labor market area; and (B) remained employed as long as was reasonable prior to the move.”  RCW 50.20.050(2)(b)(iii).  The Court declined to reach the question of whether the Fulbright grant qualified as employment, and instead focused on whether the claimant had satisfied the requirement that he remain employed as long as reasonable prior to the move.  Finding there was no evidentiary support in the administrative record for the claimant’s contention that it was reasonable for him, as a matter of professional courtesy, to separate from employment seven months before the family’s move to Finland, the Court ruled that the Department did not err in concluding that the claimant had not worked as long as reasonably possible.

The moral of the story is that if you are an employee and you want to argue that it was the “ethical, professional, and courteous path” to quit on a particular date for the convenience of your employer – here, the teacher quit at the end of a school year to save the school district from the “hardship” of having to fill his position mid-year – you would be well advised to confirm with your employer that that path is the employer’s preference also.