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Saying ‘Start looking for another job’ can mean unemployment comp liability

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in Admins,Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources,Office Management

Employers that tell workers to “start looking for another job” may find themselves paying unemployment compensation when the employees do just that—by quitting right away instead of waiting for the pink slip.

Recent case: Regina McKnight, who worked as a legal secretary, was struggling at work. When she went to her office manager to complain about her workload, the office manager told her that the firm wasn’t satisfied with her performance and that she should “look at other options and start looking for another job.” McKnight then went home and never returned.

She did, however, file for unemployment compensation.

The law firm’s office manager later said she hadn’t fired McKnight, and that McKnight had quit voluntarily by leaving work after the warning. McKnight appealed a denial of benefits and the Commonwealth Court said she was eligible. The court said employees whose employers say things with both “the immediacy and finality of a firing” and then leave work are eligible for benefits. (Cipriani & Werner v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, No. 07-0653, Commonwealth Court, 2007)

Advice: How should you handle a performance discussion if you don’t intend to fire the employee, but simply want her work to improve?

  • First, document your intentions by drafting a memo outlining what you expect to cover in the meeting.
  • Hold the meeting in privacy. Avoid using language that implies the employee is about to be fired. Focus on specific problems the employee must address and state your expectations.
  • Conclude by explaining that improvement means continued employment. 

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