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Job Descriptions Can Help You Combat Unemployment Claims

(10-12 minute read)

You know a good job description helps you attract the right talent. Did you know it can also help contest an unemployment claim?

If you have ever had an employee quit—or who was terminated—due to no fault of their own, you probably know that employee is eligible for unemployment benefits. Typically, this rule stands even if the employee was let go for unsatisfactory work performance. However, things are not as clear if the employee engaged in willful misconduct.

According to the Michigan Unemployment Agency, “If a worker is fired for incompetence or inability, rather than for willful misconduct, the worker will not be denied unemployment benefits.” But, if willful misconduct can be proven, benefits may be denied.

Note that it is up to the state to determine the meaning of “willful misconduct” and the outcome of each unemployment compensation case.

A Case of Unsatisfactory Work and Willful Misconduct

In a case overseen by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Scott v Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 36 A.3d 643) it was determined that the employee’s unsatisfactory work rose to the level of willful misconduct, which disqualified the employee from receiving unemployment benefits. The employer had the burden of proving that the employee engaged in willful misconduct.

Why the Job Description Matters

When contesting an unemployment claim, the employer needs to prove—through testimonies and documents—the employee’s willful misconduct. It may be useful to show that the employee had been warned about the infractions and that he or she kept engaging in misconduct even after the warnings. For example, documentation of progressive discipline can demonstrate the steps you took to try and correct the employee’s behavior. The job description may also play a significant role.

Detailed job descriptions tell employees what they are responsible for doing, how much time they should spend on those activities, and who supervises their work. Since it’s virtually impossible to predict all the tasks for the job, a good job description typically states that additional duties may be assigned.

New hires should receive a copy of the job description on their first day at work so they know what’s expected of them and whether they have all the necessary resources to capably perform the work. Current employees should receive a copy of the job description during performance evaluations or related meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page. The description should be promptly updated if there are modifications to the job and a copy of the updated description should be given to the employee. It’s a good idea to have the employee sign the job description and any updated versions.  

The signed copy should be placed in the employee’s personnel file to show that the employee received the job description.

How Job Descriptions Help You Fight Unemployment Claims

Circling back to the case overseen by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, here’s an excerpt of why the employee was denied unemployment benefits:

“We note that mere incompetence, inexperience, or inability to perform a job generally will not support a finding of willful misconduct. But, it is well-established that an employee’s failure to work up to his or her full, proven ability, especially after multiple warnings regarding poor work performance, must be construed as willful misconduct because such conduct demonstrates an intentional disregard of the employer’s interest or the employee’s obligations and duties.”

Therefore, you might be able to win an unemployment compensation claim by showing documentation of what was expected of the employee and how the employee refused to perform the assigned work. This documentation includes the job description and supporting records.  

Keeping unemployment claims to a minimum is essential because these claims have a direct impact on your unemployment insurance rate—the more benefits drawn on your unemployment account, the higher your rate. For this reason, it is in your best interest to contest a claim if you have a strong argument. But, before you forge ahead, consider seeking legal counsel. An attorney can advise you on whether you have a robust case and what to do if you do not.



October 25, 2018




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