Rampant abuses of Oklahoma's unemployment benefit system are costing employers millions of dollars and costing workers lost job opportunities, business executives told a Senate interim study committee Wednesday.
Walt Schumacher, chief executive officer of Sontag Inc., of Clinton, told committee members he is shocked by some Oklahoma Employment Security Commission hearing officers' decisions to grant unemployment benefits to employees terminated for improper behavior.
He cited the case of a male employee terminated for sexual harassment as an example.
Schumacher said the initial complaint came from a woman who said the restaurant employee had gotten her into a motel room and thrown her on the bed, before she was able to escape and run away. Unsure exactly what happened, Schumacher decided to counsel the employee.
“A couple days later, four women came forward and said he had sexually harassed them,” Schumacher said. “We terminated his employment.”
Schumacher said he and four women all testified against the employee at his unemployment benefit hearing, but the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission hearing officer granted the employee unemployment benefits, saying the evidence was inconclusive since the employee denied the harassment allegations.
“I don't know how many witnesses an employer has to have to make something conclusive,” he complained. “We won that one on appeal.”
Schumacher also cited the example of a restaurant employee who was terminated for doing her college homework on the job after she had been warned at least three times that it was inappropriate. She was granted benefits after Schumacher's company lost the case on appeal, he said.
Stacy McCabe, human resources manager for Key Personnel in Tulsa, complained that an employee was granted unemployment benefits after quitting her job because she didn't like the length of her commute.
Hearing officers also have granted unemployment benefits to former part-time employees who were working less than 30 hours a week, she said.