Can I refuse to work more hours while unemployment if the compensation is less than I feel it should be?

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Can I refuse to work more hours while unemployment if the compensation is less than I feel it should be?

After 21 years working for the same company I was laid off December, 2015. After collecting Unemployment for approx. 1 month, I went back to work part time for 20 hours a week. I previously worked 40 hours a week. I was also offered to work the same job I had before I was laid off,40 hours for 65 of the salary. I decided to work the 20 hours for 50 of my salary. I just received a letter from Unemployment with an appointment for a Claims Examiner Interview and I am concerned. I have seen that in California it is acceptable to reject a position that is less than 80 of my salary and continue to collect unemployment. I cannot find any such ruling in New Jersey. Can you tell me if it is acceptable for me to turn the offer down and not lose unemployment I only receive unemployment for the weeks that I earn less than I was getting while on unemployment. Since my job is salary plus commission, it is never the same, week to week. After 21 years, I feel that my employer was trying to take advantage of the fact that I was now unemployed. Please help me so I know how to respond at the Interview, which states that the reason is ‘You may have refused to accept possible suitable work and /or a job referral’. Thank you

Asked on November 28, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Refusing to work similar hours to what you had previously worked is always risky: while you are only required to accept "suitable" employment which is generally held to be more-or-less economically comparable work, the presumption is that working is better than not; "comparable" is interpreted broadly; and when income is variable, generally the lower end of the range or spectrum will be used in determining comparable. So it is not a given that the unemployment office will concur that working full time for 2/3 the pay was not "suitable." 
That said, arguing that the offer was not suitable is your best bet for how to respond, to show that your refusal was reasonable. Collect data & documentation to support your claim--e.g. your pay stubs, form W-2 or 1099 (as applicable), etc. for your past employment, the correspondence from the employer (if any) about the new offered position and what it paid...you want to show the examiner the strongest case you can that 2/3 the money for the same hours is simply not suitable, and that 50% of the money for 50% of the hours--i.e. the same effective hourly rate--was much more suitable.


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