By Kara E. Shea
Tennessee’s Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act, which takes effect September 1, amends the state’s unemployment statute in ways helpful to employers.
For instance, the new law defines what constitutes “making a reasonable effort to secure work” for the purposes of unemployment insurance eligibility. It specifies that “making a reasonable effort to secure work” means a claimant must provide detailed information about his contact with at least three employers per week or access services at a career center managed by the Tennessee Department of Labor (TDOL). Claimants providing false work information will be disqualified from benefits for a minimum of eight weeks.
TDOL will conduct random audits of 1,000 claimants per week to determine whether they are complying with the law. During the first 13 weeks of unemployment, a terminated employee is eligible for benefits if he doesn’t obtain a job that pays 100% of what he was earning at the last job. From that point, the standard decreases to 75% during the 14th through 25th weeks and to 70% from the 26th through 38th week. Thereafter and through the termination of benefits, the eligibility standard is 65% of the claimant’s previous wages.
The new law also clarifies the definition of “misconduct” that would disqualify an employee from receiving benefits. The law states that employees who deliberately disregard workplace rules or “reasonable standards of conduct” can’t collect unemployment. Although the new law still leaves room for interpretation, it’s more employer-friendly than the previous version. It also spells out that employees who deliberately disregard a “written attendance policy” are out of luck. Finally, it also provides that anyone who is incarcerated during any week of unemployment is ineligible for benefits.
The new law provides that an employer that terminates an employee may supply information to the state agency that administers unemployment benefits before the former employee mails a request for information. That allows employers to proactively remit information about the termination to the TDOL in anticipation of a claim for benefits being filed.
The law also addresses severance packages or wages in lieu of notice to ensure that if an employee is given either of those benefits, he isn’t eligible for unemployment benefits until the severance is paid out. Also, a laid-off employee who is offered the same job or a similar job at the same wages but refuses the job isn’t eligible for benefits. And if a laid-off worker is offered a job with his former employer but the new job requires a drug test (whereas the previous job didn’t), he must take and pass the test or he isn’t eligible for benefits.
Kara E. Shea is a partner in the Nashville office of Butler Snow and the editor of Tennessee Employment Law Letter.