Friday, September 6, 2013

Employment Law Basics for Employers: How to Handle an Unemployment Claim

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) handles all unemployment claims. Every employee – even ones who quit – might be eligible to receive unemployment compensation depending on the circumstances. It is very important for an employer to document the facts leading to every employee’s separation from employment; try to obtain a resignation letter from each employee.

TWC’s claim investigation will focus on whether the employee was terminated for misconduct connected with their work or, alternatively, whether the employee had good cause connected with work for a voluntary resignation. For example, if an employee is being harassed at work, he or she would have “good cause” to quit. 

Some things that an employer should not do:

  • Fire an employee in the heat of the moment without warning. Unless a reasonable person would believe the conduct could result in immediate termination, you should provide the employee with reasonable notice and an opportunity to correct the violation before proceeding to termination.
  • Demand an employee’s resignation. Resignation under pressure from the employer can be considered an “involuntary work separation” that allows the employee to receive unemployment benefits.
  • Immediately accept an employee’s resignation in lieu of discipline, or reach a “mutual agreement” that the employee will resign. Similarly, this may be viewed as “involuntary work separation” under pressure. Ask the employee to provide you with a letter of resignation containing a definite date for his last day of employment, preferably at least two weeks in the future.
  • Accept an employee’s request to be “laid off.”  Reductions in force or “lay offs” are usually considered an involuntary work separation.
  • Ignore communications from the Texas Workforce Commission. Employers should respond to every notice of an unemployment claim within the deadline provided.
  • Fail to have HR documents and eye-witnesses available for hearings held by TWC. It is important to have proper evidence for TWC, rather than just “hearsay” or guess-work.
  • Change the reason for an employee’s separation from work. Remain consistent in your explanation about the events that led to the employee’s termination. Don’t rely on memory or make assumptions; check your records, speak to anyone who observed the events directly, and get your facts straight from the beginning.
  • Fail to contact an employee who does not show up for work. If an employee quits without notice, document your records by attempting to contact that employee to ask when he intends to come back to work. It also helps to have a policy in place describing the number of days an employee can be absent from work without contacting his direct supervisor (never a co-worker) before he will be considered to have voluntarily abandoned his job.

As always, when dealing with an unemployment claim, you may want to consult with an HR or employment law specialist early in the process to determine the best way to proceed.