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Who owns the burden of proof following a voluntary quit?

By October 18, 2022February 21st, 2023No Comments

The Great Resignation

It is hard to watch the news lately without hearing something about the Great Resignation. Reports of people quitting their jobs in droves are constantly in the headlines. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 47.8 million people voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021, the highest average numbers reported since the BLS started reporting quits in December 2000.

Chances are that your organization has been impacted and that you have seen a large number of employees quitting. While it is true that an individual who quits may not be eligible for unemployment benefits, it is a good practice to document these types of situations if their next job doesn’t pan out as they had hoped. In these cases, they may apply for benefits, and as a former employer, you could be held liable for at least part of that expense.

Three things an employer should know about a voluntary quit

Most people assume that if someone quits, they are ineligible for unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, that is true. Unemployment benefits are available for individuals that are unemployed through “no fault of their own.” The claimant has the burden of proving that they quit because of a “good cause connected to the work.” As an employer, you should be prepared to respond to the justification the claimant gives for why they quit, including supporting documentation such as a letter of resignation.

When a state workforce agency looks at voluntary quit situations, they will look to the employer to show three things.

  1. Was continuing work available for the claimant had they not quit? If the claimant quit because it was clear that they were going to be terminated due to job performance soon, they may be able to establish good cause.
  2. Was the reason connected with the work they were doing? Asking every employee why they are leaving is a best practice. If the claimant left for work-related reasons, you should try to show that a reasonable person would not have quit under these circumstances.
  3. If the claimant had a problem or concern about their employment, did they give you an opportunity to address the issue? If the claimant did not make you aware of an issue, you can make a good case that you did not have a chance to address the issue before they quit.

If an employee feels that they have been subjected to adverse job actions such as a substantial cut in pay (usually 20% or more), a loss of benefits, a demotion, or an unfavorable transfer or change in hours, they may be able to show good cause for quitting and may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Voluntary quits that may qualify

What are the situations where an employee may qualify for UI benefits even though they voluntarily quit?

  • Domestic Violence Situations – States are increasingly allowing benefits when someone leaves their employment due to a domestic violence situation. However, employers are generally not held liable for benefits in these cases.
  • Care for a Family Member – The severity of the illness and its relationship to the employee is important to determine if benefits may be available to the employee. Each case is different and as an employer, you may be liable for benefits in certain instances.
  • Moving with a Spouse/Military Reassignment
  • Dangerous Conditions – If a reasonable person in the situation finds the working conditions intolerable and quitting was the only option because of constant sexual harassment, dangerous working conditions that go unaddressed, or a manager is demanding the claimant commit an illegal act, unemployment benefits may be awarded.
  • Another Job – Typically, you will not be liable for benefits assuming the employee works for their new employer for 18 months or more. However, if the offer of new employment falls through, or they lose that job in the first 18 months, an individual may qualify for benefits and the state will ask for information about the quit from your employment to determine liability.

Medical/Health Reasons

When an employee leaves for health/medical reasons, it is a best practice to document the following for unemployment purposes.

  • Did the employee notify you of their health/medical issues?
  • Did a licensed healthcare provider advise the employee to quit? Do you have a copy of the medical statement?
  • Did the employee request a medical leave of absence (LOA)? If so, was one granted?
  • If you were unable to offer an LOA, what were the reasons for the denial? What job duties was the employee unable to perform?
  • Did you have work available for the employee that met their modified duty needs? Was other work offered?

Best Practices

In order to be able to defend your case, we recommend the following best practices for documenting voluntary quit cases.

  • Get it in writing – Ask for a resignation letter that includes the reasons the individual is quitting, their intended last day of work, and their signature. If the resignation occurs via text, make a copy of the text conversation for the employee’s file. If the employee doesn’t provide a written resignation, make sure the person who accepted the resignation documents the reason provided for the quit as well as the date and time they accepted the resignation.
  • It’s OK to ask questions – Sometimes the real reason for quitting isn’t provided. It is acceptable to ask questions to see if there are circumstances that could be addressed by the employer. This documentation can show that you were not aware of possible issues or provided the opportunity to make changes in order to retain the employee.

The great resignation is still impacting employers across the United States (U.S.), and we are also seeing a large number of layoffs due to the economy. It’s more likely today that you could receive a claim in the future for someone who voluntary quit. While the burden of proof is on the employee, it is best to be prepared for a possible claim to protect your organization from being charged for benefits. Documenting the situation at the time of the quit will ensure that you have the necessary information to refute the claimant’s statements if a claim is filed. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to your client relationship manager or your claims team.

Provided by our friend, Michele Heckmann, Director of Customer Insights, at Thomas & Company.

(Image by Snowing from Freepik.)

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