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Bruce Coleman v. Natchez Democrat & MDES

Bruce Coleman was employed as Sports Editor of the Natchez Democrat. Because he was having problems getting along with management, Coleman tendered his letter of resignation and gave a two weeks’ notice. Two days later, management decided to terminate Coleman, citing his decision to resign and that they needed to get on with things.  The Natchez Democrat did not pay Coleman for his full two-week notice period.  Coleman subsequently filed a claim for unemployment and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) denied his benefits because he had quit without good cause. The MDES had always held that an employee, who submitted a letter of resignation or expressed an intent to quit, initiated the separation at the point of notice. The MDES had left it to the discretion of the employer as to whether they would allow the employee to work out a notice period. The decision was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Hinds County. However, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the decision and awarded benefits.

The basis for this decision was that Coleman tendered his two-week notice indicating that he would be leaving. Two days later, his employer advised him that he did not need to work out the remainder of his notice and he could leave at that time. The Supreme Court ruled that since the employer advised the claimant that he was no longer needed, the issue was no longer a voluntary quit, but a discharge. Since the employer had not proven misconduct connected with his work, the claim was allowed and he was awarded benefits.

There are two ways of interpreting this the Supreme Court’s decision. First, the tender of a resignation letter did not change the employment status of the claimant. In other words, he is still employed until the effective date set forth in his letter of resignation

He has not voluntarily quit until he leaves. Second, the expression of an intent to voluntarily quit is not misconduct or anything else that disqualifies a claimant from receiving benefits. Therefore, if a claimant is terminated after tendering a letter of resignation but before the effective date of resignation, the employer will assume the burden of a chargeable claim. This will be true unless the employee is terminated for an incident (i.e. no call, no show) that would, on its own merits, constitute disqualifying misconduct.

MDES has held if an employee tenders his resignation with you, depending on his reason for leaving, you as an employer have several options to potentially relieve your institution of any unemployment liabilities. First, you could allow the employee to work out his notice. Second, if you do not wish the employee to work out his notice, you can pay him for the period that you recognize as a notice period and then advise him that his services are no longer needed. If the employee gives you a one month notice that he is leaving, and your notice period is only two weeks, then you would only have to pay the employee for two weeks if you choose to not have him work out the notice. Should you decide to waive notice without paying the employee for the remainder of his notice peri­od, you should remember that you may face UI charges up to $6,110 for your decision. Third, as previously stated and as in any other case, if the claimant commits an act that would otherwise warrant disciplinary action, up to and including termination, the action should be taken. The MDES will then look upon this separation as any other discharge issue.

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