Pennsylvania, like other states, allows workers to collect unemployment benefits only if they are out of work through no fault of their own. In general, this means that if you quit your job voluntarily, you are not entitled to benefits. However, Pennsylvania law recognizes that there are circumstances in which events outside your control may force you to quit. In such circumstances, you may still be able to collect benefits.
Burden of Proof
Under Section 402(b) of the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law, you can collect benefits only if you quit your job for a "necessitous and compelling" reason. The Pennsylvania law firm of Wolf, Baldwin & Associates notes that the precise definition of "necessitous and compelling" isn't spelled out in the law; rather, it's been shaped by court rulings and the decisions of "unemployment compensation referees," officials who evaluate and investigate benefit claims. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, the burden of proof rests on the worker: The law assumes that the worker's reason for leaving was not necessitous and compelling; the worker must demonstrate that it was. Workers must also prove that they made "every attempt" to remain on the job. If you don't give your employer a chance to make an accommodation for you, then you're ineligible for benefits.
The Department of Labor and Industry lists several acceptable reasons for quitting. Among them: a health condition that makes you unable to perform your job, loss of transportation if you are unable to make alternative arrangements, and a spouse being transferred to a new job location if you cannot maintain two residences. Other personal circumstances that make working impossible may rise to the level of necessitous and compelling, the department says. Wolf, Baldwin & Associates also cites on-the-job harassment; if you can demonstrate that any "reasonable" person in your situation would quit because of harassment, you may have a claim.
Unsuitable Working Conditions
Under Pennsylvania's system, by taking a job you are essentially declaring that it is a suitable job for you. Therefore, if you quit because you don't like it or aren't any good at it, you can't claim benefits. However, if you can demonstrate that the employer lied to you about the nature of the work or that the conditions of your work changed without your consent, you have a basis to claim benefits after quitting. Examples include work that turned out to be dangerous or was offensive to your beliefs or morals. If you were led to believe you'd make more money, that may also qualify, according to the Department of Labor and Industry. And if your employer demands that you accept "wages, hours or conditions of employment" that would be unacceptable to a majority of people in your line of work, the law specifically says you are entitled to benefits.
Pennsylvania law explicitly says that when an employer is laying people off, any worker who volunteers for a layoff is entitled to benefits. Also, workers who quit their jobs are eligible for benefits if they did so because they would have been required to join a labor union, refrain from joining a labor union or resign their current membership in a labor union.