United States: Unemployment Claims: Do You Really Want To Fight It?

Last Updated: October 6 2014
Article by Richard R. Meneghello

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding unemployment claims filed by recently-departed employees. This article will try to shed some light on them and help answer the common question: "Should we fight an unemployment claim?"

A recent state court decision from Oregon shows just how difficult it is for employers to prevail in such claims, and might lend you some guidance in answering this question for yourself. (The laws dealing with unemployment claims vary widely from state to state, but by and large all follow the same general patterns).

One Employee's Very Bad Day

Lisa Fox worked as a pharmacy technician for Kaiser Foundation Health for over 13 years until her termination in January 2013. On January 17, 2013, Lisa knew she was in for a bad day as she was perilously close to being late for work. Her company required her to clock in for her shift within four minutes of the start time of her shift, meaning she needed to clock in by 6:34 a.m. or face possible disciplinary action. She was already on notice of prior attendance violations, so she was frantic that morning and in a rush to get to work on time.
She drove her car into the parking lot, parked it in a loading zone near her building's entrance, and dashed into the workplace to try to beat the clock. She breathed a sigh of relief as she punched in at 6:33 a.m., then 
 
returned to the parking lot to move her car into a regular parking space. She arrived back at her work station at 6:36 a.m. to begin her work day. When her employer learned about this situation, it promptly terminated her employment for "time-card fraud," concluding that she inappropriately got paid for several minutes while not actually performing any work, and had effectively lied about her true start time.

Fox filed a claim for unemployment benefits, which was initially denied by the Employment Department. She then appealed to an administrative law judge, who reversed the decision and granted her benefits. Kaiser then appealed that decision to the Employment Appeals Board, which overruled the judge and denied benefits. Lisa then appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which issued a ruling in March 2014 saying that Lisa should be given one more chance to try to prove her case. In order to understand this decision, it is important to take a step back and understand the rules at play.

A Close Case

The Oregon Employment Department, along with most employment departments around the country, allows individuals to receive partial compensation while in between jobs in order to help tide them over. But not everyone qualifies for these benefits. Employees who voluntarily quit aren't entitled to unemployment because they should have made plans for compensation before abandoning a paying gig. And employees who commit an act so reprehensible that anyone committing it would end up fired, also cannot enjoy the benefits because it's their own fault that they are without compensation.

If an employee punches someone, steals something, does drugs, or drinks alcohol at work, you can feel pretty comfortable that their benefits claim will be denied – but anything beyond that is tricky. The rules are fairly liberal in nature and allow employees to collect unemployment benefits even when they deserve to get fired, so long as their conduct wasn't "egregious" in nature. (again, different states use slightly different criteria, but you get the idea).

So an employee who screws up the job, continually shows up late, blows a critical presentation, loses a big account, consistently gets poor evaluations, forgets basic company rules, or just plain proves to be too un-skilled for the position, will probably still get benefits. And if the employee commits an egregious action but claims that it was "an isolated instance of bad judgment," the state – at least some of them – may give the employee a one-time pass and allow them benefits anyway (so long as the conduct wasn't unlawful in nature). That's just what Lisa Fox argued: that her "time-card fraud" was actually just a one-time screw up that should be forgiven.

The Oregon court didn't go so far as to agree with her, but it did say that the lower agency didn't properly examine her mental state when making its ruling. The appeals court said that whether a rule violation amounts to an isolated instance of bad judgment depends on not only the seriousness of the conduct but also the claimant's mental state when committing the act.

Here, Fox said that she made a "snap decision" while in a rush that morning, that she didn't realize what she was doing would be considered "fraud," and that she has time-management issues due to diagnosed attention-deficit disorder. All of these things, she said, should play into the decision in determining whether she should get benefits. The court agreed with that much, noting that the lower agency should take testimony and evidence about these issues before rendering a decision, sending the case back to them for further proceedings.

Drawing Conclusions About Drawing Unemployment

So what lessons can employers take from this decision? In other words, should employers fight unemployment claims?

First off, as described above, you should understand that there is a very high hurdle at play to get an employee disqualified. More importantly, understand that unemployment claims aren't referendums on whether the termination was justified or lawful. There might be a very good, non-discriminatory, well-documented, and supportable reason to terminate an employee, but that doesn't mean that an unemployment claim will be denied.

So don't feel the need to have to fight the claim in order to prove that you were in the right. But if you do decide to fight a claim, be sure that you take it seriously and not try to wing the hearing without preparation. Employers' statements during the claims process are made under oath, so even though the ultimate decision might not impact a later discrimination or wrongful-discharge claim filed by the worker, the statements made during the process are going to lock you into a story. Do your homework and prepare as if you were in court.

The answer to whether you should fight an unemployment claim is "it depends," but at least understand the risks and consequences should you decide to venture down that path.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Richard R. Meneghello
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Emails

From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.