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SECTION 9:  BENEFITS ELIGIBILITY and CHARGING

When job separations occur, employers are contacted via letter and/or telephone to obtain facts critical to determine claimant eligibility for UI benefits. Prompt participation and complete information from employers allows UI to make proper decisions to allow or deny benefits to those who find themselves unemployed and seeking benefits. Correct decisions on UI benefits eligibility is of great importance to the Unemployment Insurance Division, as well as to the claimants and employers the program serves. Employers play a valuable part in the administration of UI benefits. Workers who worked in insured employment and find themselves out of work without fault depend on employer’s quick responses for accurate and fast benefit payments.

Can a claimant work part-time and still receive benefits?
Partial unemployment benefits are paid to claimants who continue to work less than forty hours a week and earn less than twice their weekly benefit amount.  The benefit amount varies according to their earnings for the week.  Partial benefits are intended to give a claimant incentive to accept less than full-time work while they are looking for full-time employment.

Customary Hours
Claimants are considered fully employed if they are working the same number of hours they customarily worked during the base period of their claim. The customary hours are an average of the number of hours they worked for all employers during the base period weeks they worked. If they work less than their customary hours they might be eligible to receive partial benefits, but they are not eligible to receive benefits for any week in which they work the same or more than their customary hours.

To calculate the customary hours, employers are asked to provide the department with the hours the employee worked for that employer during the base period. If the employee was scheduled to work the same number of hours every week, the employer can just provide that regularly scheduled number of hours. If the claimant’s hours vary from week to week due to work availability, the employer is asked to complete a form showing the hours worked each week during the base period. Employer cooperation in providing this information is vital to ensure partial benefits are only paid to those claimants who are working less than their customary hours.

What separations qualify claimants to receive benefits?
Benefits are allowed if a claimant:
  • Is laid off due to lack of work;
  • Is laid off at the end of a temporary job;
  • Quit for work related reasons, or;
  • Is discharged for reasons other than misconduct – To be considered misconduct, the individual must have control over the situation and the behavior must have an adverse affect on the business interests.

               Misconduct is an intentional disregard for the interests of the employer.
                  Inability to perform the job is not considered misconduct.

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    Discharges - Things the UI Division will ask employers to provide:
    Final Incident – a detailed description of the final incident that occurred at the time of, and directly led to, the discharge – What happened, when, who was involved etc.

    Company Policy – if the claimant was discharged for violation of a company policy, a copy of the violated policy will be requested. It is difficult for an employer to show a policy has been violated if a copy of the policy is not provided.

    Written warnings - warnings must pertain to the same problem/action that directly led to the discharge.

    Warnings – a warning whether verbal or written should include:
    checkmark a description of the action that led to the warning,
    checkmark date of the incident,
    checkmark date the warning was issued,
    checkmark the expectations for correction of that particular problem,
    checkmark and the consequences if the problem continues.

    If the warning is verbal the person who issued the warning should document the steps above for the employee’s file with their signature confirming which of the above warning steps occurred.

    A written warning should:
    checkmark be signed and dated by the person issuing the warning,
    checkmark ask the employee to sign and date the warning acknowledging they received it – even if they don’t agree with it. (Giving the employee an opportunity to respond to the warnings can work in the employer’s favor.)
    checkmark if the employee refuses to sign the warning and someone else was present, include a signed statement by the witness attesting to the fact the warning was issued and the employee refused to sign it.

    Remember formal or informal discussions with employees for on-going training or performance enhancement are not warnings. Warnings should clearly put the employee on notice that their job is in jeopardy if the problem(s) continue.

    What are re-qualifying wages?
    If the claimant is disqualified due to a quit for personal reasons or discharged for misconduct, they can earn re-qualifying wages to end the disqualification.  For a quit issue, the claimant has to earn six times their weekly benefit amount after the date of the separation to requalify.  For a discharge issue, the claimant must earn eight times their weekly benefit amount after the date of the separation. The disqualification is ended, not removed, when the re-qualification wages are earned.  If disqualification is ended, your account may be charged for benefits paid after the ending date of the disqualification.

    How is fact-finding done?
    If a quit or discharge has occurred within 42 days of the filing of the unemployment claim, a decision will be issued regarding the separation, and the employer involved will receive a copy of that decision.  Quit and discharge issues are investigated by the Customer Service Representatives.  They will contact your business to obtain specific separation information for each claim.  We appreciate prompt return of the requested information to allow for timely decisions. A decision will be made on a quit/discharge on the last employer, regardless of the length of time since the separation.

    You can return information to: UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE DIVISION
      PO BOX 8020
      HELENA MT  59604-8020
        OR  
      Fax:  (406) 444-2699

    What can employers do to help insure a fair determination?
  • Follow good personnel practices, such as:
      checkmark Document personnel policies;
      checkmark Make sure employees are aware of the policies;
      checkmark Make sure you give employees a chance to improve poor performance;
         
  • Provide specific separation information to the Unemployment Insurance Division.  For example, don’t say “poor performance”; say “he ruined a batch of milk by dumping lye in it.”
         
  • Provide copies of any disciplinary actions (related to the reason for separation) and the policies which were violated, and;
         
  • Provide witness statements for corroboration when it is your word against the claimant’s. Be sure to date any warnings or notes about conduct. Be specific as to the date the behavior occurred.

    How does job/union attached status affect an employer?
    Job-attachment allows an employer to retain qualified employees who are temporarily laid off and willing to return to their employ once work is again available for them. It also allows a claimant with a new offer of employment to discontinue seeking other work pending the start date of the new employment. The employer is required to verify they intend to hire/rehire the worker.

    If a claimant is totally unemployed, they can be “job attached” when the claimant has a definite or approximate date of hire or return to insured work at which the worker will be regularly scheduled to work 30 hours or more per week. If the claimant is working part time, they can be “job attached” if they have a definite or approximate date they will be returning to at least 40 hours a week on a consistent basis. The claimant is not required to register for work or make a weekly work search while job attached.
    Union-attachment exempts the work search requirement of unemployment insurance for claimants who are on the “out-of-work” list with a union that operates an exclusive hiring hall as the union performs this activity on the claimant’s behalf.

    Union-attachment exempts the work search requirement of unemployment insurance for claimants who are on the “out-of-work” list with a union that operates an exclusive hiring hall as the union performs this activity on the claimant’s behalf.

    Benefits paid for the time a claimant is job or union-attached will be charged to your account if you are determined to be a chargeable employer. The longer a claimant is out of work or on reduced hours, the more charges accrue. If the rehire arrangement changes at any point, the employer should contact the Unemployment Insurance Division.

    Work Search Requirements and Why They Matter to You as an Employer
    The Unemployment Insurance Division is working to ensure that individuals are properly seeking employment while drawing unemployment benefits.  Claimants are required to actively seek work and make appropriate employer contacts each week.   Claimants are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits for any week they do not comply with work search requirements. 

    Our Division is increasing verification of work searches. To accomplish this, we make calls to employers who claimants reported as a work contact.  We ask for your cooperation by keeping a simple record of job applicants – who applied and when. This will make help to make the process quick and easy for everyone.  It is critical for employers to be an active partner with UI in this effort, as improper payment of unemployment benefits has a detrimental effect on the Unemployment Trust Fund.

    What happens if a claimant refuses a job offer?
    If a claimant refuses a bona fide job offer (offer is made directly to the claimant by a person authorized to hire) a decision will be made by the department to determine if the refusal will be disqualifying.  The department considers such factors as:

     
  • The degree of risk to the claimant’s health, safety, and morals;
     
  • Physical fitness;
     
  • Prior training;
     
  • Experience;
     
  • Previous earnings;
     
  • The length of unemployment and prospects for finding work in the claimant’s customary occupation,
    and;
     
  • The distance of the available work from the claimant’s residence.

    If a claimant refuses suitable work without good cause, the claimant is disqualified to receive benefits. The disqualification can be ended when the claimant has earned six times their weekly benefit amount.  The maximum benefit amount is reduced by six times the claimant’s weekly benefit amount.

    When are notices of Potential Benefit Charge sent?
    These notices are sent to all experience rated employers who paid wages to the claimant in the base period (see chart on page 14).  All employers in the base period are potentially chargeable based on the percentage of their wages to the total base period wages.
           
      Example: The total base period wages are $24,000.  ABC Company paid $12,000 of that total.  ABC Company is potentially chargeable for 50% of any benefits paid.
           

    The UI Employer Benefit Charging phone line at (406) 444-0399 is available to assist employers with questions, concerns, or responses to potential unemployment insurance charges or actual charges to their accounts. This queue is staffed by knowledgeable claim assistants who process employer charging notices. This service is available Monday Friday from 8:00 a.m. 4:00 p.m.

    When are charges for experience rated employers relieved?
    The Notice of Potential Benefit Charge is returned in a timely manner by the employer, and:
     
  • The claimant quit for personal reasons or other reasons not attributable to the employment, or
     
  • The claimant was discharged for misconduct, or
     
  • The claimant is still working with no reduction in hours or wages or less than a 10% reduction – We are required to compare the 4 weeks prior to filing of the claim to the four weeks after the claim is filed, or
     
  • The claimant is attending Department approved training, or
     
  • The base period employer is ordered to military service, or
     
  • The benefits are paid in accordance with a national or state extended benefit program, or
     
  • The claimant was laid off to accommodate the return of a military employee called to active duty.

    Montana Law does not allow us to relieve charges for employers who hire temporary or seasonal employees, if the claimant completed the temporary or seasonal assignment.

    How charging determinations differ from non-monetary determinations:
     
  • Only apply to base period employers;
     
  • Do not allow or disqualify the claimant to receive benefits;
     
  • Only decide the base period employer’s chargeability;
     
  • Cannot be based upon the claimant’s availability or work refusals.

    Remember:  Employer charging determinations are based on the last separation prior to the claim effective date.  If a claimant quits for personal reasons, the employer rehires them for a temporary period, and then a claim is filed, the employer will be charged based on the temporary, last period of employment.

    How do non-monetary decisions affect benefit charges for experience rated employers?
    When a claim for benefits is initially filed, the department adjudicates the separation from the last employment and any separations that occurred within the 6 weeks prior to the claim effective date.
     
  • If the claimant is disqualified for a separation from their last employer or an employer within those 6 weeks, benefit charges will be relieved to experience-rated employer(s);
     
  • If benefits are allowed, experience rated employer(s) are charged.

    A claimant’s eligibility for benefits can also be affected by availability, work refusals, not registering for work, not providing information when requested, etc. If any of these situations occur, a claimant may not be eligible to receive benefits. In order to protect the integrity of the UI trust fund and employers’ individual accounts, we depend on employers to provide timely, complete information regarding work refusals, availability, etc.

    When are Statements of Benefits Paid sent?
    Statements are sent out quarterly by the Unemployment Insurance Contributions Bureau and show the charges to your account for the quarter indicated.

    Example:Charges for the months of January, February, & March will be mailed in April.

    Can I have UI benefit related forms sent to a different address from the address used for my UI Tax notices?
    Yes. If you want benefit-related notices sent to an alternate address, please complete the Employer Update form including Part III (located on our website at http://uid.dli.mt.gov/tax/forms/UI-1U.pdf) and fax or mail it to the address noted on the form. Or, you may send a written request, signed by an authorized representative to: PO Box 6339, Helena MT 59604-6339. Be sure to specify if you want claimant separation forms, benefit charge statements or both sent to the alternate address.

    What is the Privacy Act?
    We are governed by the Federal Privacy Act and are required to protect the privacy of both the employer and claimant.  The claimant can be told the wages you have reported under their social security number.  However, no specific information regarding your account will be made available to the claimant, another employee, competitor, or curious members of the public. 

    This is also true of the claimant’s information.  An employer will be given copies of statements the claimant made concerning a separation from that particular business, as well as a copy of any determination made pertaining to a separation from that employment. 

    As a chargeable employer, you will receive a Statement of Benefits Paid for each quarter there are charges or credits to your account. However, we are not able to tell you the claimant’s weekly benefit amount or the specific weeks in which the claimant drew benefits. 

    If an accounting firm is handling your UI matters, you will need to contact us to authorize the release of information to them.

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