NOT by avoiding the paperwork!
Here at CEDR, we used to joke that you could fire an employee for shooting you in the leg, but unless you could provide video, two witnesses, and a doctor’s note at the unemployment hearing, the employee would still win. And this was true whether you had one employee or one hundred. Sentiment across the country was that if you are going to lose 99% of the time, why take the time to fight claims?
While managers and employers should still weigh the time they spend fighting unemployment claims against the benefit and probability of winning, there are two other key points to consider.
First, things changed over the past four years – and more to the point, state budgets have changed. This has turned out to be good for employers. Why? Because having good policies and taking time to document the reasons for termination can be game changers for the employer in hearings.
Secondly, attorneys are starting to warn the HR community that what you don’t do can come back to bite you. This can be particularly true when you know or suspect that the probability of litigation is high with a specific employee that needs to go.
So with those caveats in mind, it doesn’t hurt to revisit best practices and increase your knowledge when it comes to unemployment claims.
Keep in mind that since 2011’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Integrity Act, employers bear more responsibility for replying to state agencies’ UI inquiries – and face greater penalties for late or inadequate responses, especially as states get around to fully implementing the Act’s provisions.
No matter the size of your business, it’s important to be aware that your response to an unemployment claim is discoverable. As I said before, what you do, and what you don’t do, could come back to haunt you, especially if the employee brings some other kind of claim.
As an employer, here are some points you must consider to stay compliant with this area of unemployment law:
- Make sure your HR managers and/or payroll staff can recognize and know what to do with Unemployment Insurance Claim forms when they arrive by mail.
- Assign or take responsibility for processing your response to UI claims in a timely fashion – your time window is brief in most states. Remember that your responses are discoverable and must be truthful!
- Document any information you communicated to the employee, as the UI agency may request this material or your rationale for decisions. This documentation should be crafted with care by HR or the most appropriate manager and needs to meet the standards of good HR practices. For more on documentation, click HERE.
- Always disclose all the facts, as you understand them. Employers may be penalized by state laws if they are found to be willfully withholding facts surrounding an employee’s separation from employment.
Remember, it is especially important to be truthful and timely with the UI paperwork in cases where there is any possibility of litigation – you may trigger increased regulatory scrutiny if you make agreements not to contest UI claims. You may also want to consult with a qualified HR professional in some cases.
Plus, you can get into further trouble if you have a pattern of failing to reply in a sufficient or timely fashion. This can lead to extra benefit charges up front even if an ex-employee is later disqualified – which can literally cost your medical office money, because it raises the amount of taxes you pay based on your experience rating down the line.
Hopefully these points will increase your caution level when it comes to UI inquiry or claim responses (remember when you got shot in the leg at the beginning of this trainer? It’s just a flesh wound!). And as always when it comes to employment law, bear in mind that many states have more specific legislation with more rigorous requirements.
This is a complicated topic, but it’s also an area where knowledge can save you money in the long run. You may need to consult with an expert to make sure your documentation and termination practices, and especially the medical office policy manual that supports them, are fully up to date and in line with all areas of federal and state law. Call 866-414-6056 any time if you have questions, or for a quick, FREE quote on an individually customized dental or medical employee handbook!
OR, just want to know more about HR policy pitfalls? Check out CEDR’s blog at www.cedrsolutions.com/hr-base-camp, where we provide more free HR tips than you can carry up a mountain.
Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature, and is not intended to replace good counsel about a specific issue with either your attorney or your favorite HR expert.