People are pretty crafty when it comes to scheming up ways to receive a check for doing nothing. For the most part, farm kids are above quitting a job and looking for a handout. But with the pool of qualified available talent shrinking and the number of farms depending on labor outside of the immediate family increasing, it makes sense to put some rules in place for dealing with labor.

Retired Organic Dairy Producer / Options Trader

One of the biggest headaches is training someone for a few weeks only to have them never show up again, and a few months down the road, they file an unemployment claim against you so you can pay them to sit idle while the work around you continues to pile up.

I have no problem with anyone using public programs who truly need it, but there is a certain amount of satisfaction from a well-crafted argument to counter a former employee’s attempts to game the system.

I’ve found that there are four items you must have to successfully counter a false unemployment claim against your farm.

1. A written job description

It doesn't have to be fancy, and you don’t need an employee handbook or a dedicated human resources department to create a one-page job description. Your job description can be a bulleted list with expected hours per week, the employee’s day(s) off and your general expectations of what would result in immediate termination – such as animal abuse or abuse toward another employee. Follow those up with a general list of day-to-day duties. One page is sufficient, but write your bullet points so that a fifth grader would understand. Once you agree to hire a person, this job description should be customized to what their exact schedule will be. Review it with them on their first day, give them a copy and make them sign and date a copy for you to retain for your records. Just plan on a system where everyone you hire will eventually make an unemployment claim from the very beginning.


2. Track excuses

People can come up with a dizzying amount of excuses of why they can’t come to work today. Modern technology makes documenting their excuses a breeze. No one wants to call you and tell you they are not coming, but texting is an amazing tool. Take a screenshot of each excuse and print them off, and then add these to their file. You will need to dust them off in six to 12 months to fight an unemployment claim. People will tell you in person or on the phone if it is actually legitimate. Illegitimate excuses always come in a text. Make your future life easier and save these texts!

3. Payroll records

Any modern payroll system can print out a paycheck detail on each employee. If you find yourself fighting an unemployment claim, print this off to show their work history. Most everyone who will file a claim worked less than three months for you. They usually start strong with a lot of hours and then quickly fade. You can use payroll history to demonstrate there were available hours to fill but the employee failed to show for the total amount of hours available. Show the high amount of hours as the baseline available and the low amount of hours at the end as being their failure to show up – not the lack of work available. You can usually connect the dots here with dates between the payroll history and the excuses they send in text messages.

Unemployment claims cannot be denied for lack of work but can be denied for an employee’s failure to show up for work or if they quit on their own terms. As an example, a highway construction worker can work six months of the year and then draw unemployment in the winter due to lack of work, but a dairy does not suffer from a lack of work. Demonstrating the total amount of hours that was available to the employee and their failure to fill them will put the claim in your favor – not theirs.

4. Write a letter

Letters serve many purposes. Some farms have a written warning protocol to start a paper trail that can lead to a future termination of an employee after so many warnings. If you have to terminate an employee for any reason, you really should document it right then. The best way is to have the reason for termination tied directly to something you spelled out in the job description on day one. Having them sign and date their termination letter before they receive their last check will give you some more ammunition for a future unemployment claim.

Some people will just up and quit, and never come back, and you won’t have a chance to terminate them. You should document the date and the reason they left. If you write this in letter format, it will look very professional in the eyes of the unemployment office.

Once the time comes you actually receive a claim, tie the whole thing together with another well-worded letter. Most unemployment claims will be a form you fill out and return to the Department of Labor. Go a step beyond and tie your facts and proof into a written letter. Start with a compliment to let whoever know you are happy to have worked with the employee and appreciate their effort on your farm, but then list the real facts that detail why you can’t wait forever for a person who fails to come to work if you are going to give proper care to your animals. I promise you that no one holding a civil service job at the unemployment office will side with a person who skipped out on their duties while caring for animals. Playing the animal card will be the ace up your sleeve when it comes to fighting unemployment claims.

It’s extremely effective to fight unemployment claims if you have a documented history on every employee. It’s not pleasant to think every person will make a claim against your farm someday, but if you do not prepare that way, you will be left holding the bag and providing a check to someone who isn’t even helping on your farm anymore. A signed job description, a hard copy of written excuses with a time stamp, a paycheck detail history and a well-crafted letter to tie it all together will keep you ahead of their unemployment schemes.

I have put some sample job descriptions and actual letters I have wrote to the unemployment office into a free ebook. You can download and use any of the templates if you need to fight a claim in the future. Just click this link to receive a free copy or find it on the Dairyhack website.  end mark

Jim VanDerlinde
  • Jim VanDerlinde

  • Dairy Producer, Consultant
  • Hillview Dairy
  • Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
  • Email Jim VanDerlinde