We are all familiar with time constraints from the basketball shot clock to your IRS filing - deadlines are a way of life. But when making a termination decision, how long is too long for the purposes of defending an unemployment claim? Just how long can you hit the snooze button before it becomes an issue? As with most things in the employment world it depends on your facts. The length of time that an employer waits to terminate an employee who allegedly engaged in misconduct can determine whether the employee is eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits.
The Iowa Administrative Code expressly states that "[t]he termination of employment must be based on a current act." The Iowa Court of Appeals has stated that it believes the purpose of the rule is to ensure that an employer does not "save up" acts of misconduct and "spring them" on the employee when a separate desire for termination arises.
In distinguishing between past acts and current acts of misconduct, Iowa courts have looked to the time between the employer's awareness of the misconduct and the actual date on which the employer contacted the employee regarding the misconduct or notified the employee that the conduct could be grounds for termination, even if the actual termination does not occur until a later date.
At least one Iowa court has found that ten business days is a reasonable amount of time to address a termination. In this instance, the employer first addressed the misconduct with the employee two days after learning of the situation and the employer subsequently conducted several interviews prior to making the termination decision. The court noted that it was reasonable to allow a company's human resources department time to assess the situation and recognized that an impractically short period of time between notification and termination could place undue pressure on employers to rush into termination decisions.
Once an act of misconduct has been reported, the employer should:
- Interview the employee.
As soon as possible, the employer should interview the employee and advise that the conduct may be grounds for termination.
The employer's goal should be to fully investigate the alleged act of misconduct.
- Report Findings.
After all relevant information has been gathered, the results should be conveyed to the employee.
- Make a Termination Decision.
The termination decision should be made within a reasonable amount of time so that the conduct is deemed a current act of misconduct.