Contesting (and Winning) an Unemployment Claim

When you receive notice of a former employee's unemployment claim, always contest it when the employee had quit or was fired. Here's how.




Let’s say you have a former employee who was fired a year ago for inappropriate workplace behavior. Today you received notice that she filed for unemployment.

Should you appeal her unemployment claim? The short answer: yes.

Does everyone “deserve” unemployment insurance?

The Unemployment Insurance program (UI) was created to help individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own. It’s intended to be temporary assistance for qualified people to meet basic needs while seeking new job opportunities.

If your former employee was fired for inappropriate workplace behavior, it appears to be an unwarranted unemployment claim. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she isn’t eligible for UI; it means your company shouldn’t be culpable for UI wages paid to her.

Why would I receive an unemployment claim for somebody who isn’t eligible?

When someone files for unemployment benefits, the state has a look-back period to determine which employers may be impacted. In most states, that period is the previous five quarters from when the claim is filed. Any company for which someone worked during those first four of five quarters will receive notice of a former employee’s unemployment claim, with the chance to contest it.

For example, let’s say your former employee files an unemployment claim on February 18th. The previous 5 quarters would be Oct-Dec (Quarter 5), July-Sep (Quarter 4), Apr-Jun (Quarter 3), Jan-Mar (Quarter 2), and Oct-Dec of the previous year (Quarter 1). All organizations for whom she worked during those first 4 of 5 quarters would receive notification of her claim.

Although this former worker was fired for inappropriate workplace behavior at your company, she may still be eligible for benefits. It’s possible she started working for another organization who then laid her off with no attributable fault of her own. However, you should always contest it when the individual was termed from your company for any reason beyond a genuine lack of work (layoff) to avoid culpability.

How do I contest a frivolous unemployment claim?

To determine your company’s culpability for UI wages, there are two main focal points: knowledge and control. You must show that the former employee had knowledge that their behavior may lead to termination and that they could have controlled the outcome. Building a strong case includes the following:

1. Clear and Consistent Company Policies

Your company needs to prove it had clear policies in place, that the individual was aware of these policies, and that your company has always been consistent with following those policies in every situation. If any policies are ever updated, you need proof of having communicated those changes to all staff.

Your employee handbook should outline its corrective action process and may even identify behaviors that may warrant immediate termination. Having a copy of the former employee’s signed acknowledgment page of the employee handbook and a clean track record of always following the outlined policies will significantly help your case.

2. Thorough Documentation

The burden of proof is on you, the employer, whenever a former employee makes a claim. Always maintain documentation for any employment action to protect your company and avoid the “he-said, she-said” arguments. Documentation may include text messages, photos, emails, copies of warnings, and so on.

If a verbal warning is the first step in your corrective action process, be sure to document it afterwards. Go one step further and have the employee sign the documented verbal warning. Following your corrective action process and documenting every step along the way provides a strong case that the employee had knowledge and control over the situation.

In summary, you should always contest an unemployment claim any time an employee voluntarily quits or is fired. To help you remember each situation, follow your outlined company policies, and document the process of every employment action taken. If you have a Human Resources Information System, be sure to accurately indicate the reason for termination. Where applicable, upload all documentation for easy future reference.

For more information, please contact your certified HR expert. Not a current Stratus HR client? Book a consultation and our team will contact you shortly.

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