Navigating the unemployment claims process
Q. Ms. Jones, the human resources director of A1 Corp., receives a Notice of Claim for Unemployment Benefits from a former employee, Mr. Smith. Ms. Jones is not sure if Mr. Smith is eligible for unemployment benefits. What does she need to do to decide if she needs to respond, and what should she expect if she does?A. In today's economy, more employees are becoming former employees and are filing for unemployment benefits - a difficult process with a variety of applicable rules and regulations.The state Unemployment Compensation Bureau in the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security is tasked with paying out benefits to eligible claimants who are unemployed, or underemployed, through no fault of their own. When an employer receives a notice of claim, it has the opportunity to object to the claimant's characterization of the separation where appropriate, and will later have an opportunity to appeal a decision to grant benefits to the former employee.Therefore, the employer must understand the circumstances of that former employee's employment and also determine if that employee is eligible for benefits. It should be determined how the separation came about (was the employee terminated or did he or she quit voluntarily?), the length of employment and the employee's wage and hour records.When determining eligibility for unemployment benefits, the employer must review the employee's employment over the first four calendar quarters out of the last five completed calendar quarters or, in the alternative, the last four completed calendar quarters. An employee may be eligible if he or she worked for the employer for more than four consecutive weeks or more than nine of the preceding 13 weeks and must have earned more than $1,400 in each of two calendar quarters (looking back to the preceding five calendar quarters). If the employee meets the eligibility requirements, New Hampshire law sets out further eligibility requirements: the employee must file a claim, register and report to Employment Security, be ready, willing and able to accept and perform suitable work, disclose child support, serve a one-week waiting period, and several others.An otherwise eligible employee may become disqualified for leaving work voluntarily without good cause, termination for misconduct, failure to seek suitable work or a disciplinary layoff.An employer has 10 days to respond to a notice of claim and may only respond if the employer disagrees with the employee's statements contained within the claim for unemployment benefits.Appeals processThe employer may appeal the decision should it disagree that the claimant is eligible for unemployment benefits. An appeal must be in writing, set forth the dispute of fact and/or law, and must be filed within 14 days of the determination. Failure to object within this time frame makes the determination final and conclusive.Upon the filing of an appeal, an appeals tribunal hearing will be scheduled. Any individuals with firsthand knowledge of relevant events and any supporting documents should be prepared to attend the hearing. This hearing is recorded, under oath, with testimony, examination and exhibits presented to the hearings officer. The hearings officer will review the testimony and submissions as if no prior decision has been made, and will provide a decision based solely upon what is provided at the hearing. The unemployment process is difficult, and employers should never hesitate to seek assistance with the process, whether it be from Employment Security or counsel.Katie Kiernan, an attorney in the Litigation Department at the law firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, can be reached at 603-628-1490 or at email@example.com.