Unemployment insurance is designed to assist workers financially for a short period of time while they are searching for another job.

For employers, however, if it is not handled correctly, unemployment insurance can become a paperwork nightmare that costs more than it should in both time and money.

Tax rates for unemployment insurance are increasing, says #b#John Sarno#/b#, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, and that fact alone makes it more necessary than ever to make sure that all of the paperwork is handled properly so that you, as an employer, don’t end up paying more than you should.

Sarno and #b#Barbara Cordsaco#/b# will present “Documenting to Minimize Unemployment Claims and Payouts,” a program designed to address the common issues employers face when terminating employees, on Thursday, March 25, at 9:30 a.m., at the Courtyard by Marriott in Edison.

The seminar will pay particular attention to the need for documentation and consistency in the termination process. Sarno will include a discussion of how to successfully discipline employees, proper documentation, definitions of misconduct, the unemployment process, and unemployment case law. Cost: $185. Register at www.eanj.org.

Sarno has been with the association for about 15 years. Founded in 1916, it is the only nonprofit association in the state dedicated exclusively to helping employers make sound and responsible employment decisions through education, informed discussion and training.

Sarno received a bachelor’s in psychology from Ramapo College in 1977 and a master’s in counseling from Seton Hall in 1980. He went on to obtain a J.D. from Seton Hall in 1988.

His move from counseling to the law was “a natural progression,” he says, and his work with the Employers Association is “a synthesis of everything I’ve done. It allows me to sustain my passion.” At the association he advises member companies in many areas of employment and labor law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, drug and alcohol testing, and employment discrimination.

#b#Understanding the laws#/b#. Understanding all of the laws and regulations regarding unemployment is the most important step an employer or HR manager can take to minimize unemployment claims. That particularly includes understanding the distinctions between various types of dismissals.

There are definite differences between the terms used to describes types of dismissals: “termination for cause,” “layoff,” and “furlough,” says Sarno, as well as differences in “exposure.” Employers need to understand those distinctions in order to take the appropriate steps before dismissing employees.

Termination for cause (because of an infraction on the part of the employee) gives the employer “lower exposure,” says Sarno. If the infraction involves misconduct the employer will have a limited exposure, whereas if the violation is considered “gross,” it can eliminate the employer’s exposure altogether.

“The difference is a longer waiting period before becoming eligible for unemployment benefits in the case of misconduct, versus no eligibility for unemployment in the case of gross misconduct,” he says.

Gross misconduct is usually considered something that involves a health or safety issue. An example would be misuse of company property, such as driving a vehicle in an unsafe manner. Misconduct would be a lesser violation, such as consistently breaking a dress code despite repeated warnings.

It is imperative, however, in all cases to document the misconduct as well as any discipline or warnings that are given to the employee, Sarno says.

#b#Termination vs. personal choice#/b#. While it may seem obvious that if an employee chooses to leave a job, rather than being laid off or even fired, it is a case of personal choice on the part of that employee, and the employer should not have charges made against their unemployment insurance. However, that is not always the case.

“Employees may quit and then file for unemployment saying they have been forced to leave the job,” says Sarno. If the case is proved in an employee’s favor, he is eligible for unemployment benefits. It is up to the employer to document that the employee has left the position of his own accord.

An example, mentions Sarno, would be an employee who misses too much work because her daycare situation is unstable and their babysitter often doesn’t show up. She is disciplined by the employer, then chooses to leave the job, saying that the employer has made her work conditions intolerable. It is up to the employer to have kept records that show that the disciplinary action was in keeping with the offense and that the employee received no different treatment than any other employee.

Another example, Sarno says, is an employer terminating a worker because of a poor attendance record. The former then files for unemployment claiming that because the missed work was for medical appointments, he is eligible for unemployment. Leaving work for too many medical appointments may also be cause for termination for poor attendance; however employers must carefully document all of these instances because other regulations and laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, call for “reasonable accommodations” to be made.

#b#Equal treatment#/b#. It is always important to make sure that each employee is treated in the same manner, Sarno adds. Again, documenting all disciplinary actions is the best way to guard against claims of discrimination.

#b#Protest questionable claims#/b#. It is important to protest any claims that you feel are unjustified. It can take a lot of time and effort, but is worth it, according to Sarno. Make sure that you promptly provide any records that the state unemployment office requests. Keep careful records of your tax payments as well as any charges against your unemployment insurance account. Errors can be made and it will be up to you to show that the records are wrong.

No matter what the situation with your employees, make sure that you keep accurate records. Whether they are receiving an award, obtaining training, or being disciplined for an infraction, documentation is the key.

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