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Apr 07, 2017

Navigating Unemployment Claims

By: Allison Mann

Making the decision to terminate an employee can be difficult and is riddled with potential potholes. One such situation that an employer may be faced with arises after the termination is complete—a claim for unemployment insurance benefits. In many cases, the former employee is entitled to receive these benefits. However, in others, benefits are not warranted. It is oftentimes difficult for an employer to decide how to respond to a notice of an unemployment claim. The purpose of this article is to educate employers as to possible grounds for disputing a former employee’s claim.

The North Dakota Unemployment Insurance Program

The purpose of the Unemployment Insurance Program in North Dakota (the “Program”) is to provide qualifying individuals with a temporary source of income after they are terminated from a job through no fault of their own. It is meant as a stopgap between losing one job and finding another. North Dakota employers pay taxes into the Program in order to finance the future benefits paid to terminated workers.

The Claim

When a former employee makes a claim for unemployment benefits, Job Service sends a Notice of Claim to the employer to let it know that the former employee is filing a claim. The Notice includes general information about what the claimant’s assertions. Job Service recommends that employers respond to this Notice if the claimant was separated from employment for any reason other than lack of work. The Notice will set out specific questions which will help Job Service make a determination regarding the validity of the claim. Employers should react promptly to any Notices received. The deadlines for responses and appeals in the unemployment claims process run quickly. Even a short delay in response can result in missing a deadline and forfeiting important rights.

Grounds for Rejection of a Claim

There are several reasons that Job Service may reject an individual’s claim for unemployment benefits. A greater understanding of these reasons can help an employer when responding. Two common grounds for disqualification that an employer may assert disqualifies the employee for benefits are:

    Misconduct: An individual is disqualified from unemployment benefits it he or she is terminated for gross misconduct. Gross misconduct is the willful or wanton disregard of the employer’s interests, deliberate violation of policy and standards of behavior, or extreme carelessness or negligence. It is not just being bad at your job. Being inefficient, making good faith mistakes, or being incapable of accomplishing certain tasks will not disqualify a claimant. The employer bears the burden of proving that the claimant committed misconduct.

    Voluntary Separation: The separation of employment must be attributable to the employer in order for the claimant to collect unemployment. This means that if the claimant quit his or her job, they are disqualified. However, there are some instances where an employee may quit of his or her own volition, but Job Service attributes the separation to the employer. For example, if the claimant had a good reason to quit, such as unsafe working conditions.
These two reasons are not all inclusive. Other reasons include the failure of the claimant to look for new work, the failure to accept suitable work, and separation due to a labor dispute.

In Practice

There are benefits to opposing wrongly filed unemployment claims. Amounts the employer is required to pay into unemployment are linked to the claims that employer has against it. Additionally, it provides the employer with the chance to clear up any facts asserted by the claimant that it may not agree with. There can also be risks. For instance, there may be a chance that the claimant plans to bring a discrimination lawsuit against the company. If so, there could be a possibility that the claimant will use certain evidence filed in the unemployment action as evidence of discrimination or the violation of another law.

It is important to evaluate these issues before presenting evidence. It is advised that you contact an employment law expert to evaluate the claim and give advice relating to the response in order to ensure that no important rights are being forfeited.

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(Otherwise known as “the fine print”)

I make a serious effort to be accurate in my writings. These articles are not exhaustive treatises, though, so do not consider them complete or authoritative. Providing this information to you does not create an attorney-client relationship with my firm or me. Do not act upon the contents of this or of any article on our homepage or consider it a replacement for professional advice.

Reprinted with permission from an article submitted for publication in the April, 2017Southwest Area Human Resource Association newsletter.