Tennessee Unemployment – Know Your Rights
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) came under fire in 2014 because of a backlog of unemployment benefit claims. In October 2016, there were 10,000 claims unprocessed, according to a spokesperson for the department.
The Commissioner for TDLWD, Burns Phillips, blamed the backup on the state’s new “One Touch” software system, intended to make things easier for citizens to receive service. They expected a “learning curve” for people “unfamiliar with computers,” but didn’t expect one so large.
As of November, there were 6,000 claims still unprocessed. Phillips expected the backlog to be eliminated by Christmas. However, new reporting says the TDLWD won’t see an end to the late claims until January.
The state legislature is concerned, thanks to complaints lodged by angry Tennesseans. If the situation doesn’t improve, the legislature may convene a special committee to get answers from the department.
The mandate from the US Department of Labor requires approved claims to be paid within 21 days. The TDLWD is currently falling far short of this requirement.
Claimants looking for answers will find it difficult to contact a live person. Many report they are unable to speak to anyone about their claim via the regular telephone service.
There are possible answers to at least getting an update on the status of your claim:
Contact your state representative. Claimants are getting results after contacting someone in the legislature. Check this list to see whom you should contact. We recommend using both Email and telephone contacts. Provide as much information about your claim as possible.
You may be able to reach some employees via Email using their name and the @tn.gov domain. For example, if Joe Jones is listed as an employee, type in Joe.Jones@tn.gov. They may forward your Email to the appropriate department.
The state has posted its side of the story to the TDLWD web site. They offer an explanation of the delays as well as contact information.
Currently, the TDLWD is having a public relations problem, and so they be more available to contact than you would expect; though, surely they are spending all their time trying to eliminate the backlog. When you know problems exist, knowing how to properly navigate the system is important. This document will help you avoid mistakes that may further slow the process of filing for unemployment benefits in Tennessee.
Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits in TN
Generally, to be eligible for benefits, you must:
- Be fully or partially unemployed through no fault of your own
- You must be able and available to accept any reasonable job offer
- You must have earned enough wages over a 12-month period
To remain eligible if your claim is approved, you must maintain this status and you must make a consistent effort to find work.
Tennessee now requires workers who experience a temporary layoff or were seasonal employees (e.g. someone who customarily works 120 days or less for one employer) to file for unemployment benefits. Workers that fall into this category are exempt from the work search requirement since the Department expects them to return to work (barring any additional separation issues).
Eligibility Requirements Explained
Unemployed Through No Fault of Your Own
If your actions caused your separation from work, the TDLWD will deny your benefits. If you quit voluntarily, your decision caused the separation. If you committed some act of misconduct that caused your dismissal, your action caused the separation.
There may be circumstances under which you decided to quit; however, the Department may find the employer actually caused the separation. You may have been discharged for violating an employer policy; however, the TDLWD will not consider your action “misconduct.”
Able and Available to Work
If have to be physically and mentally able to work. You must also be available to work. Being temporarily incarcerated or living outside the US may make you ineligible for unemployment benefits.
If you become ill or disabled after your claim is approved, you may still be eligible for benefits. You must receive a medical waiver, usually consisting of documentation from a medical professional of your condition. If you are already receiving worker’s compensation from the state, you will be ineligible for benefits.
You must be available to accept any reasonable job offer. A “reasonable job offer” is one significantly similar in salary and duties to your previous work. However, the longer you are out of work, the state will be more insistent that you accept jobs that pay less than you made previously.
Monetary Eligibility and the Base Period
The base period is the 12-month period used to calculate whether you will be eligible for benefits. The state observes your wages over the first four of the last five months. The period is divided into 3-month sections (“quarters”).
You must have earned a minimum of $780.01 in each of two quarters of the base period to be eligible. Generally, if you worked consistently over one year prior to your filing a claim, you will have sufficient wages for this requirement.
Maximum Benefits and Weekly Benefit Amount
In Tennessee, the minimum weekly benefit amount (WBA) is $30 and the maximum is $275 per week. Tennessee pays benefits for a maximum 26 weeks during the benefit year. You can compare the benefits Tennessee pays to other states at this site.
The maximum amount of benefits you may be eligible to receive in your benefit year is the lesser of 26 times your WBA or one-fourth of your base period wages. To be eligible for benefits, you must have base period wages outside the highest quarter of your base period of at least six times your WBA or $900. Your total amount of benefits, if not a multiple of $1, will be computed to the next lower multiple of $1.
Part-time Work and Unemployment Benefits
You may work part-time while receiving unemployment benefits. You may also file a claim for reduced wages if your former employer significantly reduced your pay rate (and you are otherwise eligible).
The state will deduct from your WBA if you earned a certain amount of wages during the week for which you are filing a claim. You may earn the greater amount of $50 or 25% of your WBA without seeing a deduction. If you receive the max WBA, you may earn just over $68 before the state deducts from your payment.
The state may reduce benefits due to other types of income like severance pay or taxable investment income.
How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits in TN
The link under “unemployment benefits” will take you to the application form. There, you will need to input your information. You’ll need:
- Social security number
- Driver’s license number
- Telephone number
- Separating employer’s correct and current name, address, and telephone number
- Last day worked
- Reason for separation
- Your work history for the past 18 months
If you are a military or federal employee, you will need the appropriate separation forms.
You may be instructed to contact the Job Center during the application process.
Weekly Certifications and Maintaining Eligibility
The TDLWD requires workers to maintain eligibility after they approve benefits. Workers must file a weekly claim for benefits, sometimes called “filing a weekly claim.”
Log into the account you created when you filed your initial claim for benefits, or call the TIPS system. The weekly certification process is available only Sunday – 8:00 A.M. until 12:00 midnight Monday through Friday – 7:00 A.M. until 12:00 midnight and AVAILABLE ALL HOLIDAYS that are Sunday through Friday.
- Tennessee 1-800-689-9799
- Out-of-State Claimant TIPS 1-800-262-8094
The system will ask a series of questions to determine whether you are eligible to receive benefits that week. These questions inquire whether:
- You received any income that week
- You worked and earned wages that week
- You were able and available to work
- You were looking for work
- You refused any work
If you answer the questions to the satisfaction of the system, they will process your claim. Otherwise, you may be instructed to contact the Jobs Center or your benefits may be denied for that week.
Work Search Requirement
Tennessee requires eligible recipients to make a regular job search. You must document the job contacts you make. Sign up to the Jobs4TN web site. If you log-in and apply for jobs regularly, you will likely satisfy the job search requirement.
You will receive payment by Direct Deposit or Way2Go Card® Debit MasterCard. Debit cards are mailed within 7-10 business days from the date your claim is filed and are valid for 3 years. You can activate the card and check balances via the mobile apps or online. Further information on the card is available at the TDLWD site.
Reasons for Denial of Benefits
Generally, the TDLWD will deny benefits if your actions or decisions caused your separation from work. If you are physically or mentally unable to work, the state will deny benefits. There may be other circumstances that will cause a denial of benefits.
- Fraud or an attempt to defraud the TDLWD (failure to disclose important information or lying about your situation)
- Receiving benefits from another state while receiving benefits from Tennessee
- Failure to conduct the work searches as required by the TDLWD
- Receiving termination pay (wages in lieu of notice that you will be discharged)
- Participation in a labor dispute other than a lockout
You may be able to reopen your claim for benefits once conditions like these no longer apply to you (e.g. you stop receiving benefits from another state; the strike ends). You must call the TDLWD to reopen a claim.
Quit and Still Eligible for Benefits
Your employer may have done something or failed to do something that caused you to quit work. They may have withheld pay for an unreasonable amount of time or moved offices, which made getting to work unreasonable burden on you. The state may consider these matters a “constructive discharge.” You may be eligible for benefits even though you quit your job. You will have to show you made an effort to resolve the problem before quitting.
Quit for Medical Reasons
If you get sick or injured (for reasons unrelated to your job), you may still qualify for benefits even though you made the decision to terminate your employment. However, your circumstance must meet the following conditions:
- You have proof of your condition from a medical professional
- You notified your employer as soon as reasonably able
- You went back to work as soon as medically able to perform your regular duties
If your doctor says you can return to your regular duties but you don’t, you’ve quit your job and you will be disqualified from receiving benefits.
Fired and Still Eligible for Benefits
Your employer may have fired you for a minor argument or a one-time violation of policy. While the employer had the right to dismiss you, your behavior may not raise to the level of “misconduct connected to your work” in these situations.
Unusual situations like these don’t occur frequently, though they are covered in the rules for making a determination. Employers regularly dispute these kinds of claims, and workers may not offer sufficient proof when they file their initial claim to back them up. So then, these matters are often dealt with through the appeals process.
What Happens When a Claim is Denied: The Appeals Process
You may appeal any determination made by the claims examiner. You can dispute the original monetary determination or whether you were eligible to receive benefits when denied.
- File your appeal by mail, fax or online.
- The appeal must be in writing. There is a form available, but it is not necessary to use it
- Include your name, address, social security number (on all documents) and the decision you are appealing
File your appeal online at jobs4tn.gov. You can check the status of your appeal at the site.
You have 15 calendar days from the date the TDLWD mailed the decision to file your appeal. If you file late, the Appeals Bureau will not have jurisdiction over your appeal and the original determination will stand.
If you are denied benefits, please visit our section on appealing benefits decision in Tennessee.
For further information regarding filing for unemployment benefits in Tennessee:
Visit the TDLWD’s web site
Find out how to file an appeal
Read the unemployment benefits guide for questions not answered here
Follow the news in Tennessee for further updates on the ongoing backlog
Frequently Asked Questions