In Tennessee -- as in every other state -- employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own may qualify for unemployment benefits. The eligibility rules, prior earnings requirements, benefit amounts, and other details vary from state to state. Here are the basic rules for collecting unemployment compensation in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) handles unemployment benefits and determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Applicants must meet the following three eligibility requirements in order to collect unemployment benefits in Tennessee:
• Your past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds.
• You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by Tennessee law.
• You must be able and available to work, and you must be actively seeking employment.
Virtually all states look at your recent work history and earnings during a one-year "base period" to determine your eligibility for unemployment. (For more information, see Nolo's article, Unemployment Compensation: Understanding the Base Period). In Tennessee, as in most states, the base period is the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before you filed your benefits claim. For example, if you filed your claim in October of 2013, the base period would be from June 1, 2012, through May 31, 2013.
To qualify, you must meet all of the following requirements:
You must be out of work through no fault of your own to qualify for unemployment benefits.
Layoffs. If you were laid off, lost your job in a reduction-in-force (RIF), or got "downsized" for economic reasons, you will meet this requirement.
Firing. If you were fired because you lacked the skills to perform the job or simply weren't a good fit, you’ll still likely be eligible to receive benefits. For example, if you were fired for being inefficient or making honest mistakes at work (despite putting in reasonable effort), then you will still be eligible for unemployment.
However, if your actions rise to the level of “misconduct,” you will not be eligible to receive unemployment. In Tennessee, among other things, misconduct means an intentional violation of company policy, careless conduct that is so frequent as to show a disregard for the employer’s interests, or other actions that are not in line with reasonable standards that could be expected of an employee. Misconduct can range from repeated violations of a written attendance policy to showing up to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Quitting. If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you had good cause for quitting. Whether you had good cause is determined by the TDLWD on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the circumstances, you may be found to have good cause if you left your position because of sexual harassment (that your employer refused or failed to protect you from after being put on notice of the harassment), or if you quit your job to escape a domestic violence situation. Leaving your job to accompany a military spouse who is being relocated also typically qualifies as good cause.
To maintain your eligibility for unemployment benefits, you must be able to work, available to accept a job, and looking for employment. (For more information, see Nolo's article, Collecting Unemployment: Are You Able, Available, and Actively Seeking Work?) If you’re offered a suitable position, you must accept it. A position is suitable if it is reasonably related to your qualifications and if the hours, pay, distance, and other working conditions are typical of your occupation. However, the longer you are unemployed, the more willing you’ll have to be to accept a position that requires less skill or that pays lower wages. For example, by the time you have been unemployed for 13 weeks, you must accept a position that pays 75% of your average weekly wage during the highest quarter of your base period.
You must conduct a reasonable search for work, which means performing at least three work search activities each week. You should keep a log of your job search efforts, including the employers you have contacted, the dates you made contact, and the outcome. The TDLWD may contact you or your employer contacts to verify your efforts.
The TDLWD determines your weekly benefit amount. Your weekly benefit amount is determined by averaging your wages from the two highest quarters in your base period and plugging that number into a Benefits Table to determine your weekly amount. There is a minimum weekly amount of $30, and a maximum weekly amount of $275. Benefits are available for up to 26 weeks.
You may file your claim for unemployment benefits online, by phone, by fax, or by mail. You can find online filing information and contact information at the TLWD's Unemployment page. Once you file, you must continue to file weekly claims with the TDLWD for each week for which you are claiming benefits.
Once it receives your application, the TDLWD will send you some documents, including a Determination of Benefit Account indicating your potential benefit amount and duration.
If your unemployment claim is denied, you may request an appeal before the Appeals Tribunal. Your request for appeal must be in writing (letter format is fine, or you can file online), and it must be received by the deadline stated in the TDLWD’s initial determination notice. After receiving your appeal request, a hearing will be scheduled to receive evidence from both you and your employer. The hearing will be conducted in person or by telephone, and the Appeals Tribunal will issue a written decision.
If you disagree with the Appeals Tribunal’s decision, you can file an appeal to the Office of Administrative Review within 15 days. If you are not satisfied with the result, you may appeal to the Tennessee Chancery Court.