Susan is late for the 10th time in 2 months; you FINALLY get the courage to fire her. You are relieved to have dealt with the problem. Days later you get a notice from the State Unemployment Agency regarding unemployment proceedings. Susan has filed for unemployment. What now?
Former employees may be entitled to unemployment benefits depending on the circumstances under which they quit or were terminated. It is in your best interest to contest unjustified unemployment claims because successful claims affect your tax rate. It is also recommended that you contest to help prevent any further action taken against you such as wrongful discharge. Follow these tips to guide you:
- The “burden of proof” always falls on the party who initiated the separation. If you fired someone, you must prove reason for termination. Make sure you have your documentation together.
- Fill out the Official Report from the state unemployment agency within the deadline stated on the form. Provide the facts, keep it simple and clear. If you don’t respond, or respond too late, the worker will automatically get benefits in most states.
- If available, the following documentation evidence should be sent to the hearing officer PRIOR to the hearing date:
- Position and Job Description at time of termination
- Date of separation
- Reason for separation
- Rate of pay at the time of separation
- Policy and Procedure Manual signed by employee
- Signed or unsigned warnings, suspensions, by employee, supervisor and/or witness
- Time Sheets relevant to your case
- Medical Statement or Doctor’s excuses
- Copies of any memos or posted bulletins signed by employee
- Exit interview notes, if performed
- Explanation of your Progressive Discipline Policy
- It is important that all employees are clear on the consequences should their bad behavior continue. As an employer you will be asked if the employee was aware of the bad behavior and if they were warned of the consequences should it continue. It is important that you prove that the Claimant knew or should have known that it was wrong to do something that she did. If you have signed disciplinary forms or policies it may help your case.
Okay, you’re ready for the call. Remind your front office staff that you are expecting an important call from the State, so the call is put through! Choose a quiet room with a good telephone speaker so all can hear and be heard. Have the Claimant’s file and ensure that all witnesses are available. Advise the witnesses to be professional and factual even when emotions are running high. And whatever you do – be available, don’t leave them on a prolonged hold. If you did not receive a call within 30 minutes of scheduled time of hearing, call the State to find out the status of the hearing. Do not assume the case was dropped.
How the call is typically handled by the Officer: In the case where the claimant was discharged, the hearing officer may begin with the employer’s testimony. If the claimant voluntarily quit, testimony may begin with the claimant. Have your case ready regardless.
The testimony given during the hearing is tape-recorded. The hearing officer will ask specific questions regarding the separation. Such as “Did the employee know and receive warning that this behavior would result in termination?” or “Did you follow your progressive discipline policy?” You should answer to the best of your knowledge and if documented, refer to the employee file for information.
The Claimant will give testimony next. You should allow them to present their case, do not interrupt, allow the Claimant to speak. The Officer may ask them to clarify questions.
When the testimonies have been given and the Officer’s questions answered, the hearing officer will then ask each party if they have any questions. In most cases each side will also get to offer a closing statement. Simply recap the main points of argument to ensure your side is clear. The hearing officer will then close with remarks concerning how you will be notified of the results.
Make the Process Easier: I have found that many practice managers and doctors are very anxious about unemployment calls. I advise you work from a proactive role to make this process easier. Develop job descriptions for each staff member’s role, make job expectations clear. Create policy and procedure manuals, introduce at time of hire and obtain employee signatures. Utilize a progressive discipline policy, it allows for structure and communication that is necessary when dealing with employee behavior. All these preventative measures help guide employee behavior and inform them of what you will tolerate in your practice. Hopefully you won’t have many of these calls, but these tips should make you feel more confident in handling them.
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