How's that again?
Here's how it works: your employer lays you off because "times are hard, business is down, we have to cut back". You go sign up to collect your unemployment insurance so you can pay some bills and feed your family until you find another job (or the benefits run out). But instead of a benefit check, you find a notice that your ex-employer is fighting your lay-off. According to him, you weren't laid off, you were fired for screwing up or you quit voluntarily. "Huh?" Yeah.
It's an unusual trick, mostly because in disputes the employer almost always loses a claim like that. Documentation is required - one, sometimes two written warnings in an employees' file, signed or initialed by the employee to prove s/he's seen them - that the employer either can't produce because it doesn't exist or has to forge and can't substantiate. But they are so desperate to save money and so sure they can get away with virtually anything after 8 years of Republican-style laissez-faire that more and more are trying it.
It's hard enough to lose a job. But for a growing proportion of U.S. workers, the troubles really set in when they apply for unemployment benefits.
More than a quarter of people applying for such claims have their rights to the benefit challenged as employers increasingly act to block payouts to former workers.
The proportion of claims disputed by former employers and state agencies has reached record levels in recent years, according to the Labor Department numbers tallied by the Urban Institute.
Under state and federal laws, employees who are fired for misbehavior or quit voluntarily are ineligible for unemployment compensation. When jobless claims are blocked, employers save money because their unemployment insurance rates are based on the amount of the benefits their workers collect.
As unemployment rolls swell in the recession, many workers seem surprised to find their benefits challenged, their former bosses providing testimony against them.
"In some of these cases, employers feel like there's some matter of principle involved," said Coleman Walsh, chief administrative law judge in Virginia, who has handled many such disputes. But, he said, "nowadays it appears their motivation has more to do with the impact on their unemployment insurance tax rate. Employers by and large are more aware of unemployment as a cost of business."
What they're counting on is that many of the people abused this way won't fight back, won't go through the potentially long, drawn-out process of defending their rights in hearings. It's the same numbers game that employers have been playing for years: the accountants say they will make more money (way more) if they don't buy safety equipment and train workers to use it than they will pay out in lawsuits when a certain percentage of workers are killed or injured because of that lack of training and equipment.
Bottom line: it's cheaper to bury a worker than protect him. In this case, it's cheaper to pay somebody to make false claims to the state unemployment investigators than to pay out massive amounts for unemployment insurance.
What they're doing is fraud, btw. It's illegal to forge documents, it's illegal to misrepresent the cause of dismissal to avoid paying higher rates.
Don't let them get away with putting you or your family in jeopardy to feed their greed. Fight. You'll almost certainly win. (Unless you live in a state still run by Republicans, in which case you're probably fucked.)