Don't Tell It To The Judge

It's good to fire bad employees. It's not so good to yap about how bad they were at unemployment hearings.

Like a bad dream, that no-good employee just keeps reappearing. Fed up with all the absences and sloppy work, you fired the bum and thought you'd seen the last of him. But then he had the audacity to file for unemployment compensation. And as soon as you get the paperwork for that off your desk and trudge downtown for a hearing, you find out he's sued your company for wrongful termination. Then, in the midst of that quagmire, you learn the worst: that the comments you made at the unemployment compensation hearing when you wanted to get him out of your life are now evidence in the lawsuit.

It can happen. Routine hearings over unemployment compensation sometimes lay the groundwork for an employment lawsuit by the same employee. In some states, issues decided by the unemployment compensation commission may not be opened again in a court of law. In others, where state law specifically bars that doctrine, offhand comments made in the informal hearing may show up later as damaging evidence in the lawsuit. Be careful how you handle unemployment claims and consider how your response could be used against you in court.

Steven C. Bahls, dean of Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, teaches entrepreneurship law. Freelance writer Jane Easter Bahls specializes in business and legal topics.

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This article was originally published in the June 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: <i>Don't</i> Tell It To The Judge.

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