Many employers structure employment contracts with employees by first having a probationary period, which is often 90 days. The employer tells the prospective employee that the purpose is to determine whether the employee is a right fit for the company. That is to say, the employer explains that the probationary period provides both the parties with the knowledge as to whether the employee, who may have done well in the interview and has strong experience, is the proper fit. Through the probationary period, each side can determine whether they want to continue with the employment or whether it is better to end the relationship with no harm and no foul.
Washington state, like almost all other states, is an at-will state with respect to employment. This means that an employer may terminate the relationship with the employee at any time. As such, regardless of whether or not the employee has been employed by the employer for 90 days, the employer may terminate the employment. However, note that statistically, employees who have worked for at least 90 days have a much higher probability of filing adverse employment actions against the employer.
While true, there are other legal issues related to the typical 90-day probationary period. Under Washington State law, employees who find themselves out of work are eligible for unemployment insurance. Unemployment insurance is small payments made to those who are unemployed, on a temporary basis.
The idea behind unemployment insurance is to help those unemployed while they look for a new job. To fund unemployment, Washington state law mandates that the employer pay the insurance. However, to qualify for the insurance, an employee must have worked a minimum amount of “base” time to get an unemployment claim approved. Those unemployed prior to 90 days must have accumulated base time; those employed beyond 90 days do not have such a restriction. Therefore, employers will sometimes require that probationary employees work a limited amount of hours to minimize their chance of crossing the base time threshold so that the employer will not be obligated to pay unemployment insurance if things do not work out.
Note that unemployment insurance lasts for 26 weeks, with the possibility of an extension. During that time, those receiving such insurance must certify that they are actively seeking a job.
To qualify, the former employee seeking unemployment insurance must satisfy the following criteria:
- Worked in the state for the last 18 months (exception for military service).
- Accumulated at least 680 work hours during the most recent base year.
- Earned some of your wages in the state of Washington.
Those who recently moved to the state, worked locally, and then lost their jobs may have to file within a different state.
Even if an employee qualifies, the examiner of the claim may reject the claim for the following reasons:
- Failing to follow rules, procedures, or regulations
- Attendance issues
- Engaging in inappropriate behavior or violating company behavior policy
- Disregarding the safety of others
- Marked decline in the quality of work
- Violating a collective bargaining agreement
Facing employment issues? Contact the HKM law firm.