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VOL. 35 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 11, 2011
Get a job!

Know your benefits before packing up

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Many people take for granted that if their employer terminates them – for any reason – they will be eligible for unemployment benefits. They would be wrong. Not knowing about how benefits are handled in the unemployment process can lead to barriers of collecting payments.

Unemployment benefits are handled by the State of Tennessee or the state in which you work and are paid for by the employer while you are working. They were established to assist people dismissed from their job for no fault of their own or because of special circumstances. The benefits are to provide limited income for people in transition from one job to another and are typically paid when you receive your paycheck.

States have established regulations to be followed when someone requests benefits after leaving their employer. If you are fired for cause, you will probably not be eligible for benefits. Cause can include the following reasons:

• Insubordination

• Failure to perform job duties

• Frequent tardiness or leaving early

• Extended lunches or breaks

• Fighting, inappropriate or threatening behavior

• Harassment

• Damaging the employer’s equipment or facilities

• Theft

• Unacceptable dress

If denied benefits, you can always contest the decision. If your employer dismissed you for cause and can prove it, you will probably lose.

If you are laid off, you will, in most cases, be eligible for unemployment benefits.

However, if you are asked to sign or provide a letter agreeing that you have no complaints against the employer (often requested with severance packages), be careful.

Check with the state unemployment office or an attorney. You probably will need a clause stating “this is not a voluntary termination.”

Also, have the employer agree that they will not contest your application for unemployment benefits if you apply. Some states have laws affecting the amount (if allowed at all) of unemployment benefits if you receive severance payments in different types of payout structures. Check it out before agreeing to a severance package.

If you are leaving because of special circumstances – workplace conditions that make you sick or feel threatened – you should be eligible for benefits. Unethical or illegal practices by your employer that you do not want to be associated with can also be a reason to leave and still receive benefits. The state will require evidence that these situations are occurring, so have evidence available. Be prepared for your employer to challenge you.

Keep records, especially written documents, dealing with your termination. The state may request to see information showing your last date of employment. Vacation time or personal days coming to you might impact when you become eligible. Continuing to receive health or other benefits can impact the state benefits. Always check in advance so you can plan and make arrangements.

Be aware that if your job is eliminated and you are offered another job but turn it down, you will most likely lose unemployment benefit eligibility. Before refusing, check it out with the state. It is usually easier to find a job when you have one.

When you leave your job, the state will give you a period of time to file for benefits. If you cannot file immediately, find out how long you have and file before the expiration date.

The main thing to remember when leaving your job is to be prepared. Know your rights. Find out what procedures you will have to follow to receive benefits and follow them.

M.B. Owens is a Nashville-based columnist and journalist with a decade of experience writing on employment topics and business.

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