Sunday, May 15, 2016

Unemployment Handbook for Claimant Employees: How Do I Complete an Application for Unemployment Compensation Benefits in Pennsylvania - Did I Resign or Was I Fired?

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Filling Out an Online Application for Unemployment Benefits Via Pennsylvania's Department of Labor Website - Was it a Quit or a Fire?  A Termination or a Reduction in Force?

In my Preface to this Series, entitled Pennsylvania Unemployment Handbook for Claimant Employees, I noted that I would over the coming months publish Posts taking employees on a step-by-step tour through the Pennsylvania Unemployment process.  This is the first in that series.

We will start at the beginning - how to complete the process of submitting an application for unemployment compensation benefits in Pennsylvania when one has been fired?

After completing the Personal Information and Separating Employer sections, the most important question for the average applicant is presented: "What is the reason you are no longer employed by this employer?"  It seems simple enough, but that is not always the case - particularly when one has been fired.

How to Answer the Pennsylvania Unemployment Application Question: "What is the reason you are no longer employed by this employer?"

In order to answer this question, the applicant is presented with a drop down window that provides the following options:

*  Voluntary Quit;
*  Termination
*  Reduction in Force
*  Lay-Off

Selecting from this menu is not always easy, because a termination causes a great deal of pain.

However, answering this question incorrectly can lead to a finding of a Fraud Overpayment, which is something to be avoided wherever possible.

The Seven Stages of Grieving Often Arise When One is Fired From a Job

I am not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on TV; however, having met with hundreds, if not thousands of recently terminated people over the past twenty-five years, I am comfortable in stating my view - a termination from employment is not unlike a tragedy, and many individuals who are terminated must proceed through the Kubler-Ross 7 Stages of Grief.  

It is the first 3 of these steps that can, in my view, make completing the application difficult:

1)   Shock
2)   Denial
2)   Anger

Moreover, the question "What is the reason you are no longer employed by this employer?" is somewhat confusing.  Are they asking you for what you were told was the reason, or what you believe to be the reason?

There is no doubt in my mind that the application requires you to provide the reason that you were told your employment was ending.

Hence, in answering this question, you must recite the reason you were provided for the termination - whether you believe the employer was lying to you, mistaken or improperly relying upon false or misleading information provided by a third-party, such as a co-worker or customer.  

In other words, you are in essence being asked to restate something bad that was said about you in an application that you hope will lead to a positive outcome.

This can be a tall order, particularly when one is in a state of shock, is angry or is in denial.

Most People Do Not Enjoy Firing Others,
So Termination Meetings Can Be Confusing
Moreover, since employers are usually interested in ending a termination meeting as quickly as possible, with as little conversation (and thus discord) as possible, the reason for one' s termination is not always made abundantly clear.  Add the fact that we go into some degree of shock when suddenly presented with bad news, and it is easy to see why answering the seemingly simple key question can be challenging.

Why Do Claimants Sometimes Struggle When Asked Whether They Were Terminated?  What is the Definition of "Termination" Under Pennsylvania Unemployment Law?  

A "termination" is an involuntary separation from work that is initiated by the employer.

So, if you went into work and were told during the workday or immediately thereafter that your services were no longer required because of something that you specifically did or failed to do, the law considers that a termination.

If you received a telephone call, letter or e-Mail when you were not at work because it was your off day, or because you were on suspension, and the writing informs you that your services are no longer required, that is a termination.

If you are told that you will be fired immediately unless you choose to resign immediately, and you choose to resign, that is a termination.

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What is a Lay-Off Under Pennsylvania Unemployment Law?

In contrast to a termination, a Lay-Off is typically defined as a situation in which one is told that they are being let go (usually along with others), but may be called back to work if things "pick up." Seasonal workers and members of a union are often laid off.  The rest of us?  Not so much.

What is a Reduction in Force Under Pennsylvania Unemployment Law?

A Reduction in Force ("RIF") usually involves the simultaneous displacement of numerous employees at the same time due to the restructuring of the company's operations, and little or no hope of a call back is presented.  RIFs are often due to economic reasons, and are commonly referred to as "downsizing."

If You Were Fired, Do Not Call it a Lay-Off or Reduction in Force on Your Application Even if You Believe that is "the Real Reason I Was Fired."

If you are simply reading this Post for pleasure (??!!), then it maybe hard for you to understand how anyone could "confuse" a termination with a Lay-Off or RIF.  However, if you are reading this in preparation for submitting your application, you likely understand exactly what I am talking about.

I believe that some applicants who were fired state that they were let go as part of a RIF because they believe that, irrespective of what the employer stated was the reason for the separation, the real reason was that the company let them go was because the company wanted to downsize.

NOTE:  If an applicant states that he/she was let go as part of a RIF or Lay-Off, and the employer states the employee was terminated for some act or failure to act, the Service Center will frequently deny the application for benefits on the theory that the applicant is "a liar," and a finding of a "fraud overpayment" may follow.

Sgt. Joe Friday
How Do You Define a Voluntary Quit Under Pennsylvania Law?

As noted above, sometimes a "resignation" is actually a "termination."

If you provided notice that you were resigning or quitting without any invitation to do so by the company, then that is a quit, and you should say so on your application.  When answering this question, it does not matter why you quit.  That issue comes later.  The important thing when answering this question is to acknowledge that you quit.

The issue as to whether one had a necessitous and compelling reason to quit employment in Pennsylvania so as to be eligible for unemployment compensation is sometimes complex, although well-defined in some situations.

What happens if you provided notice that you were resigning or quitting because you were told that if you did not do so you would be fired IMMEDIATELY?  In such a situation, your "resignation" actually was a "termination," and you should say so in your application.

NOTE:  If, however, you resigned because you were told that it was extremely likely that you would be fired tomorrow, or next week or next month if you did not quit, the the law considers that a "voluntary quit," and you should say so in your application.

In any termination situation, the issue as to whether the applicant is guilty of  willful misconduct, (and is thus ineligible for unemployment benefits) may not ultimately be determined until after an Unemployment Hearing before a Pennsylvania Unemployment Referee.
 Referee May Ultimately Decide
 Eligibility for Benefits
Therefore, try to avoid focusing too much on"defending yourself" when applying for benefits.  After all, it is the employer that bears the ultimate burden of proving that you did something wrong - why help them out by inadvertently admitting to something on your application that can be used against you down the road?

Avoid Inadvertent Confessions
When Applying for Unemployment Benefits
What is the Difference Between a Termination and a Reduction in Force Under Pennsylvania Unemployment Law?

I addressed this issue briefly above, but believe it is worth further explanation, because I have seen many people struggle with this issue. Why?  Because they disbelieve the reason for their discharge provided by the employer. This can get one in hot water!

The key to avoiding trouble in this situation is to simply state on your application what the employer told you on your last day of work that "clued you in" to the fact that you no longer had a job.  Do NOT substitute what you believe is the real reason you were let go for whatever you were told was the reason.

So, even if the company had during the last month of your employment laid off 23 employees on the 3rd floor in a reduction of force, and then told you the following week that you were being fired for "poor performance," do not "surmise" that the "truth" was that you were "really part of the reduction in force."  Rather, simply state what the employer said to you that indicated you no longer had a job.

If the Service Center investigator seeks more information when determining your eligibility for benefits, you will receive a Claimant Questionnaire.  In answering the course of answering the Questionnaire, you will have an opportunity to state your position.  Be mindful, however, that the less you say is often the better!

Doesn't My Employer Have a Duty to Explain to Me the Reason That I am Being Fired?

Companies have no obligation to provide terminated employees with a complete, fair or even honest explanation for why they are being separated from employment.  So, whether the employer spent 10 seconds or 10 minutes telling you why you are being fired is an irrelevant issue when one is applying for unemployment compensation.

So, when applying for benefits, make sure you "tell the truth" about whether you quit, were fired or let go as part of a Lay-Off or RIF, state the facts as to what you were told when you were fired and worry about explaining your thoughts and/or explanations later.

Helping Pennsylvania's Workforce Since 1991
Philadelphia Area Unemployment Attorney Representing Employees

John A. Gallagher is an employment lawyer who represents claimants in Pennsylvania. 

John typically represents workers who need an employment lawyer in Philadelphia County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Bucks County, Chester County, Berks County and Lancaster County.

Pennsylvania Unemployment Employment Attorney Provides Free Telephone Consultations (15 Minutes in Duration)

If you are looking for an unemployment lawyer, and live in Paoli, Exton, Phoenixville, Downingtown, Coatesville, West Chester, Newtown Square, Nether Providence, Springfield, Aston, Broomall, Marple, Villanova, Lansdowne, Wayne, Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Glenolden, Havertown, Haverford, Limerick, Oaks,  Lower Merion or any of their surrounding towns, feel free to send me an e-mail or give me a call.  I am always glad to spend some time with people via a free telephone consultation.

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Click Here if you have questions about any aspect of employment law, from wrongful termination, to wage and overtime claims, to discrimination and retaliation laws, to Family and Medical Leave

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