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What Defenses can Employers Use Regarding Unemployment Claims?

Upon termination of employment, an employee will most likely file for unemployment insurance compensation. The Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation department will review each claim to determine eligibility. Upon evaluation, the department will send copies of its determination to both the former employee and employer. At this time, either party may appeal the decision.  Appeals can be filed via regular mail, fax, and/or the internet.  When filing an appeal, it is important to note that it is time sensitive and will generally allow only 15 days for the appeal to be filed, which may be reduced further depending on how quickly you receive the notification/determination.

Unemployment insurance is a means to provide temporary income to workers who experienced job loss through no fault of their own. The source of the benefit is based on the taxes imposed on employers to cover the cost of compensation.  States levy taxes on employers for unemployment compensation. An employer’s tax rate increases as the number of former employees receiving benefits increases. The experience rating affects employer’s tax liability; therefore, employers should carefully consider every claim for unemployment benefits for legitimacy.

Factors that Evaluate Whether a Claim is Warranted

Employees are not allowed to claim unemployment insurance if they leave the employment voluntarily or if they were at-fault. However, these rules have exceptions and nuances that should be considered.

Employee voluntarily left the job. When an employer gives an employee a choice between resigning or being fired, such a situation is considered a forced resignation. Also, if an employee quits because he or she was compelled to do so due to an employer’s illegal acts, their resignation is not voluntary. Additionally, an employee may have good cause to quit, which could involve disability or relocation. These circumstances may also not be considered voluntary.

Employee Misconduct. Employers can challenge an unemployment claim if it involves employee misconduct, such as:

  • Violation of company policies or rules. An employee’s violation of company policies or rules was intentional.
  • Excessive absenteeism or tardiness. An employer may not have a strong case if the employee’s absence was due to illness or disability.
  • Failure to follow instructions. An employer may not have a strong case if an employee’s failure is attributable to unclear, unreasonable, or unjustifiable instructions by the employer.
  • Failure to perform a job according to normal standards. An employer would have a strong case against an employee if their conduct was egregious and did not conform to reasonable standards, such as lying, stealing, abusing, fighting, coming to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or sleeping on the job.

Preparing for the Appeal

Once the appeal is filed, it may take several weeks for a hearing to be scheduled with a Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Referee.  During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all hearings are presently held via conference call.  The Referee’s office will send detailed instructions for the hearing along with the notification.  Once you receive notice of the hearing date, it is important to note that any documents you intend to use to support your case must be email to the Referee’s office at least five (5) days prior to the hearing.  The Referees are strict and will not allow a party to use documents submitted within five (5) days of the hearing. 

In preparing for the hearing, employers should review every unemployment claim filed by former employers to determine if the claim is legitimate, which includes verifying employee information. Temporary staff and independent contractors are not eligible. For independent contractors, you should be prepared to demonstrate how the contractor was free from your direction and control, and how he or she held themselves out as an independent contractor in an independently established trade, custom or practice.  It is also necessary to verify whether the employee has been with the employer long enough to qualify. If their status changed from full-time to part-time and their wages were reduced, they may be able to seek benefits.

Additionally, employers should verify information regarding the employee’s income, dates of employment, and vacation pay information for accuracy.  Employers should also gather employee records, such as resignation letters, attendance records, termination records, and disciplinary actions or other documentation that proves employee misconduct. Employers may also have to identify witnesses to prepare for the appeal and hearing.

Finally, with regard to an independent contractor, other documents to consider submitting for the hearing include any contracts/agreements, W-9, 1099, insurance information, and any other document demonstrating the relationship between the parties.

The legal team at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser provides legal services geared to defending employers, including appeals of unemployment claims. For an initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106.  Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and New Jersey.