By  on June 13, 2017

Employers large and small regularly turn over employees. Employees quit to take care of their families, resign to take other jobs, or are fired.  Also, many employers, particularly ones whose employees are unionized, will lay off or suspend employees.  The reason for the permanent or temporary separation can be crucial in determining the employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits.  While employers do not directly pay unemployment benefit claims, the number of successful claims affects the employer’s unemployment tax liability.

All 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have some form of state-run unemployment benefits.  In every state, if an employee is terminated for cause it affects his or her ability to collect unemployment benefits.  In some states, it completely disqualifies the employee; in others it limits his or her benefit award.  Also in every state, if the employee voluntarily leaves (i.e., quits) without good cause (for no good reason), then he or she is barred from receiving benefits.

Each state, however defines differently what a disqualifying termination for cause is and what is good cause for quitting. Most states find that terminations resulting from drug or alcohol issues (like showing up intoxicated, or refusing a drug test) are for cause.  But Oregon, for example, will grant benefits to an employee who enters a drug or alcohol related rehab program within 10 days after such a discharge.  States like Virginia, North Carolina, and Michigan cite absenteeism as a cause for termination affecting an employee’s ability to collect benefits.  California and Pennsylvania find employees who are terminated due to a criminal conviction cannot receive benefits, while many others disqualify employees who commit crimes in the workplace (whether those crimes are prosecuted or not).  All states have a general disqualifier of termination for misconduct (but again each state defines misconduct differently).  Then there are unique disqualifiers, such as in Ohio and West Virginia where resigning to marry or attend to family or personal matters is the equivalent of voluntarily leaving without good cause.

While there are many common threads among the various states, each state’s disqualification standards are different. Employers need to know what reasons for separation hinder or preclude an employee’s claim for benefits.  It is important that employers consistently and accurately document all reasons for separation.  This includes temporary separations, like suspensions and labor disputes, because some states will pay benefits to temporarily unemployed workers.  Many of these states will not pay benefits to employees subject to a disciplinary suspension or out of work due to an on-going strike.   One word of caution that cannot be stressed enough, however, is this documentation of the stated reason for separation must be accurate.  If an employer creates a pretextual reason for termination, so as to hinder an employee’s ability to obtain unemployment benefits, it could expose itself or undermine its defense to claims of discrimination in that same termination.  An employer does not want to win the small victory of denying a former employee unemployment compensation only to find itself significantly hampered in responding to a discrimination lawsuit.

In summary, employers need to know their state’s reasons for disqualification, accurately document reasons for separation, and thoughtfully challenge unfounded unemployment benefit claims. If you need assistance is compiling a list of disqualifying reasons for your state or states, or if you want to discuss whether and how to fight a claim for unemployment (in light of other, perhaps bigger concerns), please do not hesitate to contact us.  We will be glad to assist you.

Beginning on March 1, 2017, California employers and businesses will need to re-label any single-stall restroom facilities as available to users of either gender.  Such facilities are required to be identified as “all gender” and be universally accessible. Continue Reading Single-User Restrooms Must Be Made Available To All in California

Out with the old and in with the new?  Not so fast.  For California employers, it’s more like keep the old and add the new.  And, as so often happens, the new year brings new concerns.  While this list is not exhaustive, California employers should keep their sights on the following new state and local regulations or requirements for 2017: Continue Reading Catch the Wave: New California Employment Regulations and Requirements for 2017

As we near the end of this election season, employers should be ready for requests from employees for time off to vote. Polling places are expected to be crowded and employers in many states must accommodate their employees’ right to vote if an employee’s work schedule prevents that person from going to the polls.  (Even in states where it is not legally mandated, considering this election year, and the general feelings around fundamental right to vote, all employers should strongly consider a plan to enable employees to vote if at all possible.) Continue Reading California Employees Can Be Entitled To Paid Time Off For Voting

As we all learned in school, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from making laws that “abridge the freedom of speech.”  Employer-created rules and decisions are not acts of Congress, of course, and are not subject to the First Amendment.  So, employers can terminate their at-will employees (all employees without an employment contract) for a good or even a bad reason, including having a bad attitude, right?  Wrong, according to the National Labor Relations Board, at least when that bad attitude expresses itself in voicing concerns about their job.

In another example of the National Labor Relations Board (“the Board”) reaching into a non-union employer’s workplace, it ordered dance production companies that run two Las Vegas shows (Vegas! The Show and The BeatleShow) to reinstate several dancers whose employment was terminated for performance and attitude problems that spanned several years of time.  David Saxe Prods., LLC, 364 NLRB No. 100 (Aug. 26, 2016).  In a letter to one of these employees, the owner of the production companies stated: Continue Reading Are Employees Entitled to Free Speech?

As discussed in Part I (posted earlier this week), a number of states and local municipalities have enacted paid sick leave legislation mandating paid time away from work for employees. While some of these laws are already in effect, others are coming soon.  Employers with operations in the following areas should revisit their policies and make adjustments as needed to plan for these upcoming changes: Continue Reading New Paid Sick Leave Laws Compel Employers to React — and Prepare (Part II)

A number of states and local municipalities have recently enacted paid sick leave legislation mandating paid time away from work for employees. Unfortunately for employers, many of these laws contain provisions that conflict with already-enacted paid sick legislation and require an adjustment of current policies, leading to confusion about requirements and entitlements.

Employers with operations in the following areas should revisit their policies and make adjustments as needed to remain current or to plan for upcoming changes: Continue Reading New Paid Sick Leave Laws Compel Employers to React — and Prepare (Part I)

Many employers today have implemented arbitration programs mandating that workplace-related disputes brought by or against their employees be decided by an arbitrator. Arbitration can provide for efficient resolution of disputes in a confidential setting.  It is also possible through the use of a carefully worded agreement to limit disputes to just one employee’s claims and prevent an employee from bringing claims on behalf of others in a class action. Continue Reading Employers Cannot Delay In Seeking Arbitration of Employment Disputes

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines systemic discrimination as “pattern or practice, policy and/or class cases where the alleged discrimination has a broad impact on an industry, profession, company, or geographic area.” In 2005, the EEOC examined the state of its systemic discrimination program and issued numerous recommendations for changes in strategy, all of which resulted in the adoption of the Systemic Task Force (STF).   The STF has been a game changer for EEOC enforcement, setting priorities that have shaped the EEOC’s agenda and strategic vision over the last decade.  Among the STF’s primary recommendations was to make combating systemic discrimination a top priority. To do so, the STF advocated for the use of a national law firm model in litigating systemic cases by staffing systemic suits based on the needs of the suit, independent of the office where the case was developed. Continue Reading EEOC Confirms Fighting “Systemic Discrimination” Remains Top Priority

Estimates are that nearly 1 in 4 non-union employers require their employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment.  These agreements are designed to keep workplace disputes out of courthouses and avoid expensive and protracted litigation.  More and more, these arbitration agreements include clauses that bar employees from pursuing class or collective claims.  Among other perceived benefits, these waivers eliminate the risk associated with high exposure aggregate litigation that plagues many industries.  The enforceability of these agreements is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).  Generally speaking, under the FAA, an arbitration agreement can mandate the waiver of a procedural right but not a substantive one.  Until recently, federal courts have largely held that these waivers of class or collective actions were lawful because the right to pursue aggregate litigation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 was procedural, not substantive. Continue Reading Enforceability of Class and Collective Action Waivers In Mandatory Arbitration Agreements: The Circuits Are Now Split