VLPA Provides Unemployment Guide

UPDATE: For additional information relevant to expanded umemployment benefits through the CARES Act, including umemployment benefits for freelancers, visit our blog post: Understanding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, friends. We know and we’re here to help. If you’ve lost your job or have recently had your hours significantly reduced, you may be entitled to Unemployment Insurance (“UI”) benefits provided by the State of Tennessee. We’ve crafted this quick guide to help you determine whether you qualify for UI and navigate the application process.

To qualify for UI benefits, you must:

1. Be unemployed through no fault of your own. This means that that you are currently unemployed or working part-time (less than 32 hours per week) and did not contribute to the reason you are no longer employed or working part-time. If you voluntarily quit your job, were discharged for misconduct, or are on medical leave, you may not qualify for UI benefits and will likely have your application rejected.

If you lost your job or had your hours cut due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, unemployment benefits may be available if you are unemployed because:

  • You were directed by a medical professional or health authority to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19, if you intend to return to work and are otherwise eligible for benefits;
  • Your employer closed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and temporarily laid off or furloughed its employees; or
  • Your employer cut your hours in response to COVID-19, if your income is less than your unemployment benefit would be.

You can find more information about unemployment and COVID-19 here.

2. Have qualifying base period wages. You must have earned a minimum of $780.01 in at least 2 quarters of time during a period known as the “Base Period.” The Base Period is the first 4 of the last 5 completed calendar quarters prior to the quarter in which your initial claim is filed. In other words, the Base Period is the last 18 months, minus the past 3 months. Here’s a handy chart and an example to explain:

Image Source: https://www.tn.gov/workforce/unemployment/apply-for-benefits-redirect-2/do-i-qualify.html

For example: If you intend to file a claim before April 5, 2020 (the last day of the current quarter), due to unemployment caused by, let’s say a novel virus or recent tornado, you will need to check your income statements from October – December 2018; January – March 2019; April – June 2019; and July – August 2019. If you made $780.01 in two of these separate time periods, then you meet the base period wage requirement. If you submit your claim later than April 5, 2020, you will need to adjust the quarter calculations to exclude October – December 2018 and include October – December of 2019.

3. Be able to work. This means you must be physically able to work at the time you file your claim for benefits. If you were on medical leave and have not yet been medically released to return to work, then you may not qualify for benefits until you have been cleared to return to work. Special provisions are available for individuals who become ill or disabled after filing an initial claim. Check out the “Eligibility Requirements” and “Disqualifications” sections in this link for more info.

4. Be available for work. As of March 20, 2020, the usual requirement that you must look for new work has been suspended. We do not know when this requirement will be reinstated. Usually, you must be actively seeking employment (apply for at least 3 jobs per week) while receiving unemployment benefits. You must document your work search activity each week by providing detailed contact information for at least three employers who you sought employment with in order to continue receiving UI benefits.

Temporary/Seasonal Lay-Offs Exception

If you were temporarily or seasonally laid off – meaning that you have a return to work date within 16 weeks from filing your unemployment claim, or are a member of a hiring union – then you are not required to look for work each week during your lay-off.

If you are a temporarily/seasonally laid-off employee, you must file a UI claim on your own behalf if you wish to receive UI benefits. In the past, Tennessee employers frequently filed UI claims on behalf of temporarily laid-off employees, but this is no longer the case. Do not expect that your employer will file a UI claim for you.

Click here for a quick guide to temporary layoffs.

When can I file an Unemployment Insurance claim?

You may file a claim for benefits beginning on the first day after becoming unemployed or having your work hours significantly reduced.

How much money can I get?

Eligible applicants may receive up to $275 a week, for a maximum period of 26 weeks. The wages you earned during your Base Period will be used to calculate your weekly benefit amount and the number of weeks you may receive benefits.

Eligible applicants can elect to have their benefits deposited weekly onto either a Way2Go Debit Mastercard (which will be sent to you by mail within 10-15 days after you submit your application) or through direct deposit into the applicant’s bank account.

How do I file a claim application?

Go to Jobs4TN.gov and create an account. From there you will fill out and submit an online UI claim application. For a step-by-step guide to creating an account, click here. For a quick overview of the application process, click here.

Be sure to have all your personal information, bank account, and routing information (if you choose direct deposit), past earnings information, and past employer contact information ready to submit with your application. For a detailed list of the required information, click here. To see what type of questions will be asked of you on your application, click here.

If you have experienced job loss due to COVID-19, you should select “lack of work” as the reason for your unemployment. If your employer is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, you should also put a return to work date. If you are unsure of your return to work date, put the date 16 weeks from the date you file your application.

If you are applying for unemployment because your hours have been reduced, your employer must submit your first unemployment claim on your behalf, so check with your Human Resources or employee benefits person about how to do that.

What happens after filing an application?

Immediately after submitting your application via Jobs4TN.gov, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (the “Agency”) will calculate whether you’ve earned sufficient wages within the last 18 months to qualify for UI benefits. If so, you will receive a “Monetary Determination Letter” through your Jobs4TN account, alerting you to the weekly maximum dollar amount you could receive if your claim is approved.

It then takes typically 3-4 weeks for the Agency to fully review your application and make a determination on whether you qualify for UI benefits. Please note that 3-4 weeks is merely an estimate and due to a high number of applicants, it may take longer for the agency to get back with you. Be patient. You will receive a letter of approval or denial after a determination has been made as to whether you qualify for UI benefits. You can check the status of your application online, beginning 72 hours after filing your claim using this Unemployment Tracker tool provided by the Agency, or by logging into your Jobs4TN account. During this time, the agency may contact you if additional information is needed to make this determination.

Further, while waiting for your claim to be processed, UI applicants must:

1. Start looking for work. This requirement has been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19, but it may be reinstated at some point. Keep an eye on your Jobs4TN account for changes.

2. Login to your Jobs4TN account each week to certify you are still out of work or what your weekly wages were. You must check in each week and certify you are still out of work to remain eligible to receive UI benefits. If you are still partially employed, you must submit weekly reports showing what your wages were for the week. If the job search requirement is reinstated, you will also be required to check in each week and answer a few questions about your hunt for a job. Click here to see more details about the certification process.

We hope this guide will help you out during this uncertain time. If you have any further questions, be sure to check out the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development’s website, where you will find further details on all of the information provided in this post. Stay healthy, wash your hands, and be sure to stay connected (from an appropriate distance, of course)!

Written by VLPA Legal Intern Jake Layne on March 19, 2020.