The most often fought-over issue regarding unemployment benefits is the reason for separation from the job because this issue can affect the claimant's eligiblity for benefits and the employer's unemployment tax rate.
Voluntary Quit without Good Cause
A claimant is ineligible for unemployment if he or she is found to have quit his or her job voluntarily without good cause. A claimant who is found to have quit without good cause is completely disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits until he or she secures employment and has earned wages equal to at least eight times the weekly benefit amount of the previous claim.
The claimant bears the burden proving “good cause” for quitting. It is very hard for a claimant who has quit his or her job to be found eligible for unemployment benefits. "Good cause" must be connected with the employment and not personal in nature. DEW expects that an employee take all reasonable steps to resolve a problem that might lead an employee to quit before taking the dramatic step of becoming completely unemployed. For example, if an employee is being mistreated or harassed by a coworker or is concerned about an unsafe work condition it is generally required that the employee report the issue to the department or individual at the employer who is responsible for addressing such concerns to provide an opportunity to correct the situation.
Generally, personal reasons, such as child care responsibilities or transportation problems, are not considered good cause to quit. There are some exceptions to this general rule. These include provisions of law providing for benefits under certain circumstances for spouses of military service members whose assignments are transferred, victims of domestic violence in fear of their safety or the safety of their family, claimants who must leave a job due to their or an immediate family member’s illness or disability, and claimants whose spouses have found employment in another city or state and it is necessary for the family to move. Each of these provisions has specific requirements. Claims approved under these provisions are not charged against the employer and will not affect the employer’s tax rate.
Discharge for Misconduct
A claimant discharged for misconduct is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits until he or she returns to work and earnes eight times his or her weekly benefit amount.
“Misconduct” is defined as
conduct evincing such willful and wanton disregard of an employer's interests as is found in deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee, or in the carelessness or negligence of such degree or recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent, or evil design, or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interest or of the employee's duties and obligations to his employer.
The provision further provides that “no finding of misconduct may be made for discharge resulting from an extreme hardship, emergency, sickness, or other extraordinary circumstance.” S.C. Code Ann. § 41-35-120(2)(a).
There are important questions that DEW considers to figure out whether a claimant was discharged for misconduct. Did the claimant break a known rule or policy? Did the claimant's actions harm the employer? Was the claimant's behavior intentional? Was this a repeat offense? Was the claimant's failure to follow a rule reasonable under the circumstances?
The employer has the burden of proving that a claimant was discharged for misconduct. This means that it is the employer's responsibility to present evidence to prove the claimant's misconduct. If the employer cannot meet this burden, then the employer should be found eligible for benefits.
Discharge for Cause Other than Misconduct
A claimant may receive a partial disqualification from benefits based upon a finding of discharge for "cause other than misconduct.” If DEW finds that a claimant has been discharged for cause other than misconduct, then it must find the claimant partially ineligible and impose an ineligibility period continuing not less than five nor more than the next nineteen weeks. The ineligibility period must be determined by DEW in each case according to the seriousness of the cause for discharge. DEW provides the following definition:
“Cause other than misconduct” is conduct that demonstrates a level of fault of the employee but does not rise to the level of deliberate disregard for the standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his or her employee. Fault includes those acts or omissions of employees over which an employee exercised reasonable control and which violate reasonable requirements of the job. S.C. Code Ann. Regs. § 47-100.
Examples of "cause other than misconduct" might include ongoing attendance problems or frequent careless mistakes.
Substandard Performance Due to Inefficiency, Inability, or Incapacity.
A common issue is whether the claimant had the ability to meet the employer’s expectations. Separation for “substandard performance due to inefficiency, inability, or incapacity” shall not serve as a basis for disqualification under either the provision regarding discharge for misconduct or cause other than misconduct. S.C. Code Ann. § 41-35-120(2)(b). “Substandard performance due to inefficiency, inability, or incapacity,” is "a claimant’s failure to perform to the satisfaction of the employer where such failure was beyond the claimant’s control, had no harmful intent or was a good faith error in judgment or discretion." S.C. Code Ann. Regs. § 47-101. This means that a claimant discharged for not meeting the requirements of a job, such as a sales or production goal, there should be no disqualification.
However, if the employer shows that the claimant did not meet the employer's expectation because he or she wasn't following directions or was careless, the claimant may still be found discharged for misconduct or cause.
Claimants can be disqualified from unemployment benefits if they are discharged for using illegal drugs, refusing to provide a specimen, or providing an adulterated specimen. However, for a claimant to be disqualified under this section, the company must have communicated a policy prohibiting the illegal use of drugs to the employee and the test must meet certain certification, licensing, and technical requirements.
A claimant who participates or is directly interested in a labor dispute (a strike) is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
Statutory Protections for Claimants in Certain Situations
There are special rules that apply for claimants in certain situations. Claimants must still meet the basic eligibility requirements of being able to work, available for work, and actively seeking work.
Military Relocation Benefits: Individuals who have left work voluntarily to relocate because of the transfer of a spouse who has been reassigned from one military assignment to another is eligible for benefits provided that the separation from employment occurs within fifteen days of the scheduled relation date.
Domestic Abuse: Individuals unemployed as a result of domestic abuse may be eligible for benefits if they left work voluntarily or has been discharged because of circumstances directly resulting from domestic abuse and they reasonably fear future domestic abuse at or en route to the workplace; need to relocate to avoid future domestic abuse; or reasonably believe that leaving work is necessary for their safety or the safety of their family. The Department can consider a variety of sources for documentation of the abuse, including police or court records or documentation from a shelter worker, attorney, member of the clergy, or medical or other professional from whom the individual has sought assistance. More information about unemployment benefits for domestic abuse survivors is available here.
Illness or Disability: Individuals who are separated from employment because of their illness or disability or that of an immediate family member may be eligible for benefits if it was medically necessary for the claimant to stop working or change occupations. “Immediate family member” means a claimant's spouse, parents, or dependent children. The illness or disability must be verified and must necessitate care for a period of time longer than the employer is willing to grant paid or unpaid leave.
Spousal Transfer: Individuals who separate from employment because their spouse was transferred or employed in another city or state may be eligible for benefits if the family is required to move to the location of that job and the location is outside the commuting distance of the claimant's previous employment.
DEW's determination about the reason for separation from employment can be appealed. The appeal must be filed within ten calendar days of the mailing date of the determination.