A man sits on a couch and considers his laptop with one hand on his chin in thought. The laptop sits on a coffee table in front of the man, along with glasses, a coffee mug, and a small potted succulent. In the background are a decorative bookshelf and a tall potted plant.
Filing for unemployment is a two-party job—both the former employee and the employer have roles to fill. — Getty Images/tommaso79

When an employee is laid off or fired, they can apply for unemployment insurance (UI) to help them get by while looking for another job. Whether or not that person receives benefits is up to the state’s labor office—and in part, their former employer.

Read to learn how unemployment insurance claims work, who can claim and the employer’s role in determining whether former employees qualify for unemployment insurance.

How does unemployment insurance work?

The U.S. unemployment insurance system has provided a safety net for recently out-of-work people since the 1930s. With oversight from the U.S. Department of Labor, the system is managed (and funded) at both national and state levels.

Businesses primarily fund unemployment insurance programs by paying Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) taxes and State Unemployment Tax Act (SUTA) taxes. No matter what state you are in, your business will pay a set amount in FUTA taxes (though these taxes are typically offset). But state-level taxes can vary depending on how much UI previous employees collected, where you are based, how many employees you have and other factors.

The majority of states offer up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, with the benefit amount calculated based on the claimant’s average earnings during . States cut weekly checks or make direct deposits to eligible workers using the unemployment insurance tax money they collect from employers.

Who can claim unemployment?

Workers who are laid off, are furloughed, quit with good cause or have lost seasonal work can claim unemployment benefits in the form of weekly cash payments—if they meet certain conditions. In some cases, employees whose hours have been cut may also be eligible for UI.

To be eligible for unemployment benefits, a person needs to meet the state's requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established base period. With COVID-19 being a major exception, unemployed individuals must also prove they are actively looking for work in order to keep receiving payments.

Generally speaking, workers can’t collect unemployment if they’ve been fired with proper cause, such as misconduct or violation of company policy. Rules surrounding eligibility vary widely between states, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check with your state’s labor office for complete information.

[Read more: Can Fired Employees Collect Unemployment?]

Yes, an employer can contest an unemployment claim—but proceed with caution.

What is an unemployment claim?

An unemployment claim is essentially an official request for cash benefits by a worker after becoming unemployed. Individuals will submit unemployment claims to the labor office in the state where they live. They must provide information about the claim, including their contact information, Social Security number and details about the former employment.

Can an employer contest an unemployment claim?

Yes, an employer can contest an unemployment claim—but proceed with caution. If a former employee files for unemployment, you’ll be notified via post. The notice will outline details such as why the employee left (i.e. if they were laid off, quit or were fired), whether they refused employment and if they are still receiving severance pay or other compensation.

At this point, you have a responsibility to either accept or contest the claim. If the worker’s claim is valid, you’ll want to accept it. On the flip side, if the notice contains inaccurate information or the employee was fired with cause, you’ll likely want to contest the claim.

Notably, employees fired for minor infractions (such as tardiness or not performing up to expected standards) have a right to receive benefits in most states. Therefore, you may not have grounds to contest this type of claim.

Also important: Contesting a claim does not automatically mean the former employee’s unemployment benefits will be denied. When contesting a claim, you’ll need to provide evidence and documentation to back up your case. For example, to contest a claim because the employee was fired with cause, you’ll need to provide documents to show proof of misconduct, such as written warnings.

Once a claim has been officially evaluated, both the company and the claimant will receive a “Notice of Determination.” The notice announces whether the state accepts or denies the claim. Keep in mind some states allow workers to appeal a denied claim.

[Read more: Everything You Need to Know When An Employee Files for Unemployment]

Should employers contest unemployment benefit claims from former employees?

Just because you can contest a claim doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

Often, the main reason an employer may want to contest a claim is to avoid a hike in unemployment insurance tax rates. The amount of taxes owed is based in part on the number of claims made against the company by former employees. Thus, employers are motivated to scrutinize every new claim.

On the other hand, contesting unemployment benefits claims is not without cost. The process requires time and energy from the HR team or business owner, although a business can hire a Third Party Administrator (TPA) to handle claims on its behalf. In addition, the process may become more complex if a former employee files a wrongful termination suit against your company or fights for the claim through a drawn-out appeals process.

Lastly, excessive or ongoing denying of claims may send a negative message to employees. Examine each case carefully to determine whether denying an unemployment claim is worth your company’s time.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published November 30, 2021