Employee Who Resigns and then is Terminated is Entitled to Unemployment Benefits

Florida's First District Court of AppealWhen an employee submits a notice of resignation that specifies an effective date, and then is discharged before the resignation takes effect, is she entitled to unemployment benefits?  That was the issue in a recent case of first impression in Florida, Porter v. Florida Unemployment Appeals Commission (Fla. 1st DCA, January 9, 2009)

Before we get to the decision, here are the relevant facts:  Shirley Porter worked full-time as a cook for Allen Children Centers from May 23, 2007 through August 7, 2007. On July 27, 2007, because “[t]hings just weren’t going right,” she submitted a resignation letter which was to become effective two weeks later, on August 10, 2007. The employer did not formally accept her resignation.  But it immediately placed an ad, began interviewing potential replacements, and on August 6, 2007, hired a replacement cook who was able to start working immediately. On August 7, 2007, the employer told Porter to “leave” because it had hired another cook to replace her and could not afford to pay two cooks simultaneously.

The legal issue was whether Porter voluntarily quit work.  If so, she would not have been entitled to unemployment benefits.

In its opinion, the First DCA reviewed case law from other states and noted that there are two lines of decisions on this issue.  One line of decisions holds that an employee whose employer terminates her employment prior to the effective date of her resignation has never left work voluntarily and therefore cannot be disqualified from receipt of benefits on that basis, even for the period following the employee’s intended date of departure.  Another line of cases holds that unemployment compensation benefits must be limited to the period between the date of an employee’s discharge and the effective date of his resignation.

The First DCA sided with the first line of cases, though the opinion offers no rationale for this choice.  The opinion merely states:

We conclude that because appellant never left work voluntarily but was instead discharged from employment on August 7, 2007 (for reasons not related to misconduct connected with her work), she is entitled to recover unemployment compensation benefits under section 443.101(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2007), notwithstanding the offer she had made to resign effective August 10, 2007.

This decision makes little sense.  It is one thing to disqualify an employee from benefits between the time she submits her resignation and the effective date of her resignation. That would be unfair to the employee, who has acted professionally by giving the employer notice of her resignation. But what is the rationale for allowing an employee to receive unemployment benefits for the period after the effective date of her resignation? As of the effective date of her resignation, the employee has left work voluntarily; that ordinarily disqualifies an employee from unemployment benefits.  An employer's decision to fill the employee's position earlier than the effective date of resignation is not the proximate cause of the employee's unemployment, and it makes good business sense in many cases (as it apparently did here).  Such decisions should not be penalized by the courts.