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'Availability' and eligibility for unemployment benefits

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There are a number of requirements for obtaining unemployment compensation benefits in Minnesota. 

One obstacle that occasionally trips up applicants for unemployment compensation benefits is the obligation that they are “actively seeking suitable employment,” as required by Minn. Stat. § 268.085, subd. 1(4).  The phrase “actively seeking” is defined as “being ready, willing, and able” to accept suitable employment, applies to all claimants regardless of the reason for separation from employment:  layoff, discharge, or quit.

There has been a tendency on the part of the administrative agency that oversees the administration of the unemployment compensation benefits, the Department of Employment & Economic Development (DEED), as well as the courts, to interpret this provision relatively strictly in claims brought by jobless Minnesotans.  A trio of recent cases decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from DEED, underscores the importance of applicants for benefits complying with these measures.

  • In Bennett v. Castle Kitchen Corp., 2014 WL 2178834 (Minn. Ct. App. May 27, 2014) (unpublished).  An employee was not eligible for benefits because she spent only 1 – 4 hours per week searching for other work, which the Court deemed insufficient to satisfy the statutory burden. 
  • In Dunn v. Caremate Home Health Care,  2014 WL 3021581 (Minn. Ct. App. July 7, 2014) (unpublished), an employee was denied unemployment benefits because she refused to take on 10 hours of work provided by her employer while she was on her part-time leave of absence to care for an injured family member. 
  • But in Haub v. DEED, 2014 WL 2565698 (Minn. Ct. App. June 9, 2014) (unpublished), an employee prevailed on a claim brought for unemployment benefits, despite an initial denial by an Unemployment Law Judge (ULJ) with DEED. The appellate court reversed the decision on grounds that the employee maintained “well documented records,” showing her job search efforts, which were consistent with a DEED approved work search plan. 

These three cases illustrate some key considerations for employees who seek unemployment compensation benefits: 

  • First, an employee should try to develop and stick to a work-search plan, which can be formulated with the assistance of DEED personnel;
  • An employee should keep good track of job search efforts, preferably with documentation, showing jobs available; applications, telephone calls, internet searches, and actual job interviews, among other matters.  Putting together some type of coherent chronological timeline can be useful, too.
  • When declining a job offer, an employee should be able to show the reasons for refusing the position, which may include unfavorable terms and conditions of employment, deviation from existing job skills, or remote distance from residence, among other factors. 
  • Following these steps can help an unemployed individual obtain unemployment compensation benefits and fend off claims that they are not “available” for suitable employment.