Washington Labor Law Blog: Insights on the Law for Washington Employers

What happens if you fire an employee who has given notice?

One of your non-exempt employees, Robert, tells you he is quitting in four weeks. You will be sorry to see him go, but you appreciate the notice.

Over the next few weeks, you find a replacement to start the Monday after Robert’s last day. You start to notice, though, that Robert’s heart is not in his work. He slacks off a lot and talks constantly to coworkers about his future plans. On Thursday of Robert’s last week, you decide you’ve had enough. You are better off without him and tell him you are making Thursday his last day. You do not pay him for Friday because you know you do not have to pay non-exempt employees when they don’t work.

Is Robert eligible for unemployment benefits?

Probably. An employee whose job ends because of a voluntary quit is disqualified for unemployment benefits unless the quit is for “good cause.” The statute sets out a specific list of reasons that constitute good cause and none of the reasons apply here. See RCW 50.20.050. On the other hand, a discharged employee is eligible for benefits absent specific reasons considered disqualifying “misconduct.” See RCW 50.04.294.

Here, and although each case has to be decided on its specific facts, even though Robert was going to work only one more day, his job did not end because he quit. It ended because he was discharged. And because nothing he did would likely rise to the level of “misconduct,” he will probably be eligible for benefits.

If, on the other hand, the employer had paid Robert through Friday, you get a different result. Paying the employee through their notice period preserves the “voluntary quit” nature of the resignation making the employee in most cases, ineligible for unemployment benefits.

 

 

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