How to Beat Unemployment Claims
When employers ask “how to beat unemployment claims” it’s usually in the context of an upcoming claim hearing, or trying to decide whether or not to contest a claim.
Ideally, most of the steps involved in successfully contesting an unemployment claim begin before that stage. (See our article on How to Avoid Unemployment Claims.) The best way to avoid losing an unemployment claim dispute is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Still, there are strategies for beating an unemployment claim that will help better your odds at any stage of the process.
First, determine if you have a case and if you can prove it.
Employees are eligible for unemployment benefits when they lose their job through no fault of their own. Generally speaking, you have a chance to beat an unemployment claim when the separation doesn’t meet this standard—when there WAS something (s)he could have done to keep the job but failed to do so.
To beat an unemployment claim, you must be able to prove that the employee:
- quit voluntarily without good cause, or
- was fired for willful and deliberate misconduct.
This article has more information on unemployment eligibility and how to decide whether or not to contest a claim.
1. Get prepared
The single biggest mistake employers make is in their preparation. Many tend to procrastinate, mostly because they dislike confrontation and because of the hassle. You need to start preparing immediately to ensure paperwork is filed on time, your documentation is in order, and you have the right witnesses available for a hearing.
On the topic of witnesses—another common error is having people without firsthand knowledge of the separation testify at the hearing. Even though hearsay evidence is allowed, it doesn’t have nearly the weight of testimony from people who actually witnessed the events.
2. Keep to the issues
When disputing a claim, many employers make a laundry list of everything single thing wrong the employee did at the company. Much of the information is irrelevant and only clouds the primary issue—which is proving that the employee should be found ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Remember, the issue isn’t whether or not you had the legal right to fire the employee. Unemployment insurance is adjudicated by a completely different set of laws and regulations. You need to prove that the employee’s misconduct or voluntary quit disqualifies him or her for benefits under the laws of your state.
3. When proving misconduct, focus on specific policies that the employee violated
One of the biggest mistakes employers make when contesting unemployment claims is assuming that everyone has the same standard for misconduct. What you believe is obvious misconduct may not be to your former employee…or to the third party adjudicating the claim. Even failing a drug or alcohol test isn’t always a slam dunk!
When proving misconduct, make sure you can point to a specific policy that the employee violated, and that the policy is reasonable and in line with current regulations. You will need to show that the employee was aware of the policy and that the violation would lead to termination of employment.
Are there extreme behaviors that are so egregious they warrant immediate firing, such as legal or safety issues? Yes. While the standards vary by state, in these cases you can prove that any reasonable person would know they could be fired without warning, whether or not it was expressly spelled out in a policy.
4. Only focus on what you can prove
Like a court of law, circumstantial evidence is not enough to prove misconduct in an unemployment claim dispute. It’s not sufficient for there to be a “dotted line” to the claimant, but a solid bold line.
This issue often comes into play in cases where the employee was fired for theft. It is only natural that employers take this personally, due to the intrusive nature of the offense. However, strong emotions can lead to a loss of objectivity. Can you really prove that the employee committed the offense? Or are you going more by assumption? If you can’t prove it conclusively, is there another policy that the employee violated that you CAN prove, such as failing in his or her duty to secure the safe or violating a cash handling policy?
5. Consider getting expert help
An individual who is experienced in the unemployment claims process can be a huge advantage. A hearing representative or attorney can look at the issues objectively because they aren’t emotionally tied to the claimant. They know how to cross-examine the claimant at a hearing and create doubt in his or her version of the events. An unemployment claim could cost you thousands of dollars, so the cost of an expert will pay for itself in a hurry.
As stated at the beginning of the article, the best way to avoid losing unemployment disputes is to prevent them through proactive HR strategies and good documentation. An unemployment cost control company, like UIS, can help you do just that. We handle the entire claims management process, including unemployment appeal hearings.
UIS wins 9 out of 10 contested claims for our clients. Call (816) 524-5999 for a free consultation. Find out how we can help you beat unemployment claims and reduce your costs.
About the Author
Jeff Oswald is the President of Unemployment Insurance Services. In nearly twenty years of managing UI accounts on behalf of businesses, he has participated in thousands of unemployment hearings.
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