Q&A with Josh Cline
Legislature clarifies misconduct in denial of unemployment claims
Q: The Oklahoma Legislature recently amended the Employment Security Act regarding eligibility for unemployment benefits for terminated employees. What was the change?
A: Employees who are terminated for misconduct aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. That much was true before the recent reforms, but the Legislature passed a bill last month that makes it easier for an employer to prove misconduct if it decides to contest a former employee’s claim for such benefits. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Fallin earlier this month and goes into effect Nov. 1. The change removes all ties to the former “willful and wanton” standard of misconduct that was exceedingly difficult to prove and gave many employers headaches. Further, the new definition gives employers greater latitude regarding employees who are excessively absent from work. And the statute makes clear that employers aren’t required to give the employee a warning if he or she violated a rule that she knew or should’ve known about.
Q: Didn’t the Legislature already address the same issue last year?
A: Yes, the Legislature last year passed a bill that defined misconduct — prior to last year’s enactment, the definition was much broader and gave the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission latitude on a case-by-case basis. Last year’s change still referred to “willful and wanton” conduct, and this year’s change remedies that. This year’s change also provides more clarity as to what action constitutes misconduct because the OESC is now required to follow the statutory definition, whereas under last year’s reforms the acts that constituted misconduct weren’t strictly limited.
Q: What should Oklahoma employers do to prepare to challenge unemployment benefits claims?
A: The best preparation occurs before the claim has been made. Employers should become familiar with the new definition of misconduct and be diligent in documenting instances of actions that fit within the statutory definition. After the claim is made, it is important to treat the claim seriously, prepare an affidavit demonstrating the acts that constitute misconduct, and provide all related documents to the OESC.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER