August 12, 2013 10:54 AM
When I was little my mother always told me that “patience was a virtue”. That was always her response when my sister and I would bother her with the all too famous phrase of “Are we there yet?” during our annual family vacation trips. Little did I know that the phrase she would tell us would come in handy down the road in my career and more specifically, in the realm of unemployment claims management.
The first thing I ask our clients when discussing a disqualifying separation of an employee is whether they followed their progressive disciplinary policy and if they kept a clear and concise record of the infractions that the employee committed. Every once in awhile they will respond with “Jane Doe was simply a poor worker who couldn’t get the job done. I knew that she wouldn’t be able to improve so I went ahead and let her go.” Because the State of Ohio is an At-Will State, this is perfectly fine and the employer is within their right to do so. Unfortunately, At-Will termination does not equal “for cause” termination, especially when it comes to unemployment claims management and ODJFS. When an employer discharges an employee, the burden of proof that the termination was with just cause is on the employer. Whether you terminated the individual within the first 90 days of employment or 5 years after hire, ODJFS will ask for a thorough record of evidence that establishes the claimant’s actions were a disregard for the standards of behavior the employer can rightfully expect form their employees. This is why having a comprehensive handbook and a thorough progressive disciplinary policy is important.
First and foremost, have all of your employees sign off on an acknowledgement that states they have read and understood your company handbook. This portion is overlooked more often than not and along with an excerpt of the policy, is the most common document ODJFS will request when investigating a termination. Further, always enact your progressive discipline policy. This often includes verbal warnings, written warnings, performance improvement plans/suspensions, and the eventual termination. The Unemployment Office will look for any excuse to allow a claim, so documenting that you notified the employee of their wrongdoing and provided them with a path of improvement upon their mistakes will show ODJFS that you made a concerted effort to keep the claimant employed and that you use termination only as a last resort. By following these steps you will be able to provide ODJFS a detailed log of information that accurately and factually details the reasons why the termination was for cause.
I’m proud to say that GMS boasts a 96.7% winning percentage on all “for cause” unemployment claims, which I would largely attribute to our clients following the aforementioned advice. By taking 10 minutes out of your day to explain your handbook or enact a reprimand, you could save as much as $13,000 per claim, something to think about before you decide to terminate an employee without the proper documentation. Patience is not only a virtue, but is also a money saver.