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Tenn. Governor signs broader unemployment eligibility rules into law

by Darrell Phillips, Attorney

On May 9, 2012, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law the “Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012” which, among other things, broadens the definition of work-related misconduct and creates greater hurdles for claimants seeking to receive unemployment benefits.  Specifically, it increases the definition of misconduct to include absenteeism, it heightens work search requirements for those utilizing unemployment benefits, it limits benefit eligibility for claimants who are incarcerated, and it ensures claimants cannot receive both severance packages and draw unemployment support at the same time.

Effective immediately, “misconduct” includes, but is not limited to:
1.  Conscious disregard of the rights or interests of the employer;
2.  Deliberate violations or disregard of reasonable standards of behavior that the employer expects of an employee;
3.  Carelessness or negligence of such a degree or recurrence to show an intentional or substantial disregard of the employer’s interest or to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or shows an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer’s interests or of the employee’s duties and obligations to the employee’s employer.
4.  Deliberate disregard of a written attendance policy and the discharge is in compliance with such policy;
5.  A knowing violation of a regulation of this state by an employee of an employer licensed by this state, which violation would cause the employer to be sanctioned or have the employer’s license revoked or suspended by this state; or
6.  A violation of an employer’s rule, unless the claimant can demonstrate that:

a.  The claimant did not know, and could not reasonably know, of the rule’s requirements; or
b.  The rule is unlawful or not reasonably related to the job environment and performance.

The new law disqualifies any claimant from receiving unemployment benefits:

1.  For any week with respect to which the claimant is receiving, or has received, remuneration in the form of wages in lieu of notice. “Wages in lieu of notice” means wages paid where the employer, not having given an advance notice of separation to the employee makes a payment to the employee equivalent to the wages the employee could have earned had the employee been permitted to work during the period of notice;
2.  If the claimant received a severance package from an employer that includes an equivalent amount of salary the employee would have received if the employee was working during that week;
3.  If the claimant was discharged from the claimant’s most recent work through a layoff by the employer and the employer has offered the claimant the same job the claimant had prior to the layoff or a similar job with an equivalent level of compensation that the claimant had prior to the layoff; or
4.  If the claimant has an offer of work withdrawn by an employer due to the claimant’s refusal to submit to a drug test or the claimant’s positive result from a drug test.

Claimants who are incarcerated for four or more days in any week for which they are claiming benefits are no longer eligible.

Beginning September 1, 2012, unemployment claimants must make “reasonable efforts to secure work”, which will require them to provide detailed information regarding contact with at least three employers per week or to access services at a career center created by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.  Claimants who provide false “work search” information for at least eight benefit weeks will be disqualified.

Read the entire bill summary here.

For more information contact:
Anthony C. Pietrangelo
PH: 901-685-2662
FX: 901-685-6122