Recent round of federal furloughs prompts questions about Pennsylvania unemployment compensation rules
It's no secret among his many friends and acquaintances that attorney Keith E. Kendall focuses on employment law in his practice with Scaringi & Scaringi, P.C.
So when the recent round of federal furloughs due to the Congressional government shutdown hit home in central Pennsylvania, it wasn't long before someone asked Kendall about the federal furlough fallout on Pennsylvania unemployment compensation.
Here's how Kendall recounts the story, which holds lessons for anyone unwillingly separated from their jobs through no fault of their own:
"A federal employee who was furloughed because of the recent federal government shutdown, asked me if he was entitled to claim unemployment compensation benefits," he recalls. "My answer to this employee -- as it would be to any employee furloughed for more than seven days -- was 'yes'."
Still, all the legal reasons and rationale go well beyond Kendall's one-word response to a friend.
The key to receiving unemployment compensation comes down to who's at fault
In the final legal analysis, the underlying unemployment compensation issues stemming from the federal furloughs boil down to who's to blame for the job stoppage, Kendall says.
Generally speaking, an idled worker's entitlement to unemployment compensation is based upon fault. To the extent that a separation from employment - even if temporary - is not the fault of the employee, the employee should be entitled to unemployment compensation benefits, Kendall says.
But there's a caveat that prevents idled workers from collecting immediately: The law also directs that no benefits are paid or payable during the first seven days of "unemployment." So there is a waiting period. But if the furlough persists, eventually idled workers stand to collect unemployment compensation.
As for the legal fine print as to why, Kendall says furloughed employees are entitled to unemployment compensation benefits because they typically meet two conditions.
First, they are "unemployed," as that term is defined under the law: Pursuant to the unemployment compensation law, an employee is considered to be "unemployed" with respect to any week (i) during which he performs no services for which remuneration is paid or payable to him and (ii) with respect to which no remuneration is paid or payable to him.
Second, as stated before, their unemployment status isn't their fault.
Furlough vs. a firing: A huge difference in unemployment compensation cases
Don't confuse furloughed with fired, however.
A "termination" or other employment separation for cause is a totally different story. An employee will only be entitled to receive unemployment benefits if he or she is "unemployed" through no fault of his/her own, Kendall says.
This distinguishes a "furlough" from a termination or other separation for a cause that could be considered "willful misconduct." Indeed, this is a specific disqualification factor under the unemployment law, Kendall points out.
The term "willful misconduct" has generally been defined as the intentional violation of an employer rule, policy or reasonable expectation of an employer for its employees, Keith says. Because entitlement to unemployment benefits is based upon fault, any separation from employment based upon "willful misconduct" can bar an applicant from receiving unemployment benefits.
Still, the ability to receive unemployment compensation benefits during periods of temporary, no-fault "unemployment," such as furloughs, also extends to other situations in which there is a temporary cessation of work, such as with temporary lay-offs.
Again, as long as an employee is not receiving payment for performing services -- and as long as the "unemployment" is not fault-based -- there is a good chance the employee will be legally entitled to file a claim for unemployment compensation benefits. Once again, there's a week waiting period for the actual unemployment payments, however.
When in doubt about your unemployment compensation status, seek legal advice before submitting an application
Despite these distinctions, there are plenty of gray areas, Kendall points out. And while Kendall is happy to answer off-the-cuff questions for friends, this is no substitute for legal advice. So where there is any doubt about eligibility, an idled employee should consult with an attorney familiar with the unemployment compensation laws, and with 27 years as an attorney, Kendall has plenty of experience.
Indeed, Kendall says an idled worker should contact an attorney before filing a claim. It's important to establish the facts up front when it comes to that initial application for unemployment benefits.
"There is a need for clarity about employment status in the application process itself, and a lack of clarity can result in a determination that the unemployment is a result of some disqualifying reason," reminds Keith.
When a paycheck is on the line, it pays not to wait - or take chances -- with your unemployment compensation claim.
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