Today, we continue our year-long series called Unemployment Vocabulary this week. If you do not work within the unemployment industry, some of the terminology utilized may be challenging to follow. It’s important to know the “lingo” to be sure that you understand what is going on within your company’s unemployment program. This week, we’re looking at the concept of the “final incident.”
You know that expression, “the straw that broke the camel’s back?” We’ve all heard it. In the world of unemployment, that straw is called the “final incident.” The final incident is the very last event that led to the decision to terminate an employee. In other words, the event but for which the termination would not have taken place. Many employers wonder why they are losing unemployment claims for terminated employees who have a long history of poor attendance or who have previously violated workplace policies. When there is a solid history of unacceptable conduct, yet the state still finds that the termination was not for willful misconduct, you can generally look to the final incident for the explanation.
When the state is ruling on whether the claimant should be eligible to collect unemployment benefits, the greatest emphasis is always placed on the final incident even if there are prior incidents in the work history. A classic example of the final incident concept is the attendance case where the employee has a history of being late or tardy, but their final absence which ultimately resulted in their termination was due to illness. In this example, absence due to illness is nearly always considered by the state to be out of the employee’s control, and therefore is not considered misconduct. Even if the claimant had a history of attendance issues that were not related to illness, the state will usually find that the ultimate cause of the separation was out of the employee’s control if the final absence was due to illness.
Another common pitfall for employers is a final incident that is unrelated to prior incidents. For example, perhaps an employee has been given a verbal and written warning for violating a workplace policy such as the dress code. The employer has a three strike system whereby a third infraction will lead to termination. The employee subsequently has a cash shortage in their register and is terminated. While this may have been a third strike for that employee, because the final incident (the cash shortage) was not related to the prior incidents (and because the employee had no prior warning for cash shortages), states will likely not find that the final incident fell under the classification of misconduct. If the final incident, which is ultimately the reason for termination, is not misconduct, unemployment benefits are allowed.
The importance of the final incident to the outcome of unemployment claims cannot be overstated. Just as important as the details of the final incident is documentation of the incident. Policy statements with signed acknowledgements, write ups and witness statements (or lack thereof) will weigh heavily in the state’s determination in any unemployment claim filed by a terminated employee.