We speak with many employers who are shocked after they experience their first unemployment telephone hearing. In general, they report feeling unprepared for the formality of the proceeding, and overwhelmed by the legal procedures to which they were required to adhere. So to help you prepare, you may either watch an excessive amount of Law & Order reruns, or you may follow these tips:
Preparing for the telephone hearing:
- Carefully read the notice regarding the hearing, and review the laws in your state to determine what you are attempting to demonstrate to the Officer. Unemployment eligibility varies by state law, and it is important to understand what you must prove in order to disqualify the former employee from eligibility for unemployment benefits.
- Submit all supporting documentation prior to the deadline. This may include disciplinary actions, handbook policies, performance reviews, the handbook acknowledgement form, witness statements, customer/client complaints, etc.
- Subpoena witnesses before the deadline. The relevant laws in most states will not allow “hearsay” evidence to be presented. If another employee or manager has relevant first-hand information, you must subpoena the witness using the state’s procedure. If on a telephone hearing call, you begin your sentence by stating, “the Operations Manager told me that,” you will most likely be cut off as this will be considered hearsay evidence and inadmissible.
- Prepare questions for witnesses and the claimant in advance. Ensure that these questions are designed to illustrate exactly what you are attempting to prove based on state law.
- Prepare your witnesses. Provide your witnesses with a list of questions that you will be asking them, and encourage them to be honest and professional in their responses.
- Prepare a brief closing argument.
The day of the telephone hearing:
- Collect all of your supporting documentation and make it available for reference while you are on the call, including dates and details relating to the employee’s termination.
- Call in at least five minutes before the appointed time of the hearing. Ensure all of your witnesses are nearby, available and prepared to testify.
- Object to testimony that is irrelevant or hearsay.
- Focus on the reason for the discharge, not other performance problems. Employers often are tempted to explain the long history of the employee’s performance problems; however, the determination will be made almost exclusively based on the employee’s separation reason or “last straw.” While other warnings may be relevant and helpful to the case, it is important to paint a clear picture of the final termination reason.
- Be polite, professional and concise.
- Avoid industry jargon.
Remember, the burden of proof to demonstrate the employee’s ineligibility for unemployment benefits lies solely on the employer. Therefore, it is critically important to become familiar with your state’s laws regarding eligibility, and to ensure that employee policy violations, performance issues and misconduct are documented in writing.
We wish you success in your next unemployment hearing. Try to envision portraying Perry Mason on the call. Remember, if you disagree with the determination, continue to appeal the decision.