There is no Pennsylvania state law or federal law that defines job abandonment. Employers who use employee handbooks often provide a definition of job abandonment in terms of consecutive days missed without contact with a supervisor. A classification of job abandonment constitutes quitting one's job, which may present issues if the employee then tries to apply for Pennsylvania unemployment compensation or if the employee is bound by a contract.
Pennsylvania was declared an at-will employment state in 1891. At-will protects the prerogatives of the employers by allowing employees to be terminated at any time and for any reason that is nondiscriminatory. Employees in an at-will state are free to quit their jobs at any time and for any reason. However, when an employee stops showing up for work, an employer then has reason to terminate. At-will is not a protection for these employees who then wish to apply for unemployment compensation. However, if an employee has an illness-related emergency, he may be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides covered employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the serious illness of an employee or his close family member.
Contract employment in Pennsylvania, as in other states, implies that the employer and employee have agreed on terms which are then set forth in a contract. Like employee handbooks, contracts often have clauses that define job abandonment. This may result in a breach of contract by the employee. A contract is a binding legal agreement and when broken may result in legal liability, including being forced by the court to fulfill the terms of the contract or facing civil damages for breach of contract. Contract employees may also be protected by the FMLA and should review its provisions if an absence is due to a serious illness of the employee or his close family member.
Applying for Unemployment in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania unemployment laws allow some employees who have quit their jobs to collect benefits, but not all. Pennsylvania employees who become unemployed voluntarily may not be able to collect benefits if the employer can show good cause for terminating them. Employees may not stop attending work because of a labor strike (job abandonment) and collect unemployment benefits. If you are protected by FMLA and this causes you to lose your job due to what your employer defines as job abandonment in your employer's policies, than you may still be eligible for unemployment in addition to having legal recourse.
Job abandonment for anything other than a true personal emergency due to serious illness could mean serious repercussions in Pennsylvania. As an at-will state, Pennsylvania allows employers to terminate employees for any reason that is nondiscriminatory including not showing up for work. If you have a serious emergency, you may be covered by FMLA and should contact your employer immediately to discuss it. Under Pennsylvania's unemployment laws, you may also be able to claim unemployment if you can show proof of childcare issues that prevented you from attending work or transportation issues that prevented you from attending work. Employees who have abandoned their jobs for any of the aforementioned reason should contact the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry for more information on how to effectively file a claim.