Unemployment Woes

You AskedMy employee quit to take another job more than a year ago. A couple weeks ago, we received a form from the state informing us that she had filed for unemployment and asking about the details of her separation. I filled it out, secure in the knowledge that she would be denied. Today, I received a form stating she received a full award! What gives?

In Colorado, unemployment benefits can be charged to any employer who employed the claimant during the claimant’s “base period.” The base period consists of the first four of the last five completed quarters calculated when the claimant files for benefits.

Let’s say the claimant separated from employment on February 19, 2015. That date is in Q1 of 2015, which is not a “completed quarter,” so we eliminate it from the calculation. We now count back five quarters, which takes us to Q4 of 2013. Now we count forward four quarters, starting with Q4 2013, and we wind up with a four-quarter period beginning October 1, 2013 and ending September 30, 2014. That is the claimant’s base period.

Your former employee gave her notice at the beginning of November, 2013, so you are still in her base period. The next question is whether she is at fault for the separation and should be disqualified from benefits.

Ordinarily, an employee who quits to take other employment is disqualified from benefits. However, in your case, she argued that the pay she received from you was much less than what she had received in the past and was also much less than what she was paid at the job she left your company to take. In Colorado, if you take a job that pays much less than you are accustomed to making, the Employment Security Act permits you to leave at any time and receive benefits. Thus, you are unlikely to prevail at a hearing.

Although based on a federal scheme, unemployment can vary drastically from state to state. For example, Arizona has a peculiar habit of holding people accountable for their actions. Arizona’s law states that you are disqualified from benefits for quitting without good cause, with no separate qualifier for quitting a job paying less than the claimant was accustomed to making.

California is always interesting. One MSEC attorney recalls a movement among California unemployment hearing officers to have their titles changed to “Administrative Law Judge.” Some then purchased black judicial robes, and at least one acquired a gavel, which he would bang at the slightest provocation.

Can the powdered wig be far behind?

Send your questions to cgraves@msec.org. Please tell us if you would prefer your identity not be mentioned in our answer.