Unemployment benefits given despite outlandish scenarios

SUNDAY, OCT. 16, 2011

I always get feedback on these columns, and I like that. Even the people who think I’m crazy are still paying attention and reading in print or online.

But the response to my May 15 column about the awards from Washington in unemployment cases was amazing. Employers are frustrated with cases of well-documented and deserved firings receiving unemployment benefits. I have reached out to several elected officials with some of this angst, and frankly am getting nowhere. I received so many emails with examples, I just had to do a follow-up.

But settle down and back away from that keyboard before you send me hate mail about me having a job and making hundreds of thousands of dollars (only a dream!) while having the gall to call out the poor unemployed. That is not the point here, folks. Many people deserve unemployment, and I have no issue with them, nor do the business people who wrote me about their problems.

We are taking issue with the state going through the motions to review cases but awarding unemployment even when the staff person was terminated for cause. For example, here is one of the best stories from an HR professional who shared with me after my last column:

“It’s a shame you didn’t call me, as I have a complete, over-the-top, unemployment insurance doozie of a story for you … and YES, IT IS TRUE!

“We actually had an employee ask her boss to fire her so that she would qualify for unemployment. The store manager called and said, ‘Honestly, Jane, I don’t know what to do … this has never happened to me. I wonder if I am being set up?’

“I was incredulous.  

“So, I called the employee at home, to (hopefully) understand just what in the heck she wanted. When I called the number she provided, I constantly received a disconnected message. I redialed twice and continued to get the message.

“It soon dawned on me that the message was different than normal in some way. … I redialed the employee’s phone number and quickly realized that it was the employee’s own voice mimicking a disconnect message! Perhaps to divert bill collectors? We’ll never know.

“I finally reached the employee at work. I asked her if she had approached her manager and asked him to fire her. She said yes. I let her know that we were letting her go for attempting to commit fraud.   

“We reported to the state that this staff member had asked to be fired so that she could collect unemployment. We do not support dishonesty or intent to defraud the state and we discontinued her employment.  

“We even provided the document that the employee had given the store manager, to guide him in writing his termination statement to enable quick benefit payments to her.  

“She received unemployment without delay.

“Our tax dollars at work! 

“For once, our attorneys were speechless … as were we all.”

Just in case you still think there isn’t rampant abuse of the system, here is a set of examples from another email I received:

• An employee loudly used an expletive to describe his supervisor in front of customers.  He was fired for gross insubordination. The judge, at appeal, disagreed that his behavior was that inappropriate and let him have unemployment.

• An employee walked off the job in the middle of a shift and was fired for abandoning her job. The judge denied the employer’s appeal, saying that “most employers would understand that the employee was just taking a cooling-off period” and would have let her come back to work once she had cooled down.

I’ve been considering what we can do as employers. Work with your elected state officials and local chambers of commerce and let them know we are frustrated. Enough is enough.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at

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