As summer rolls on, I thought it would be helpful to talk about some issues that come up from time to time with employers. (I’ll continue to have more on new developments — including a decision in the SEBAC matter, and the governor’s approval of the gender identity and paid sick leave bills — as soon as some work obligations subside.)
In a recent discussion with an in-house human resources professional, we talked about how some business people (and HR folks) overreact to unemployment compensation claims. Some people take offense to them and want to fight them as if their company and reputation depended on them.
But that view misses the point of the unemployment compensation system. The system is heavily stacked in the former employee’s favor — and for a legitimate reason. It is not a system to punish employers — it is a system to make sure that people without a job can get some compensation to tie them over to the next job. And unless the employee did something “very bad” (my non-legal term), the system is designed to compensate them.
If a former employee is getting unemployment compensation, all it means is that they didn’t do something awful to prohibit it; it doesn’t mean that the employer did anything wrong in terminating the person’s employment.
As an employer, what’s the takeaway? Understanding that the system is designed for compensation rather than “justice” means that employers should be selective about the claims that they fight and choose to fight only those that have the extreme circumstances (such as theft, or gross misconduct). Everything else is likely a waste of time and paperwork.
Beyond that though, employers need to understand that what they submit to the state unemployment compensation office will be a binding statement. Thus, if you think a case is likely going to court for, say, a discrimination claim, understand that whatever the employer says to the Department of Labor will control. Therefore, seeking appropriate legal counsel to word a response or craft an argument may be appropriate.