Setting a precedent
Sometimes it’s the smaller, less exotic bills that have the most impact on Oklahomans. Such is the case this year with the passage of House Bill 2253 by Rep. Randy McDaniel and Sen. Dan Newberry, which reverses a decision made by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission to not publish or maintain a precedent manual for use by hearing officers when determining claim eligibility.
The State Chamber discovered last fall that the OESC precedent manual (case law and statutes) has not been kept up to date. A recent review by a lawyer we hired stated: “it does appear that there are a significant number of areas where the manual does not properly set forth the law as it currently exists. Some portions of the manual have simply not been updated following legislative changes. Some sections have been revised, but in a way that would suggest to those relying on the manual that the statutory changes may be invalid."
Regrettably, many employers have lost hope in a fair hearing by OESC on their well-founded objections to bogus unemployment claims.
When asked about the accuracy of the precedent manual by Newberry in a meeting this year, OESC responded that the precedent manual was being removed from its website and that “the decision has been made not to publish an updated version of the precedent manual at this time.” It later clarified that despite not publishing the precedent manual, OESC’s hearing officers would continue to “rely upon these decisions.”
Quite frankly, this decision not to maintain and publish a current precedent manual is a disservice to both claimants and employers. Under the new law, a precedent manual, reflecting current statutes and case law determined from those statutes, must be maintained and available for all parties.
Over the past several years, legislation has been passed that instructs OESC and their hearing officers on how to handle terminations due to a worker endangering a fellow worker by being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There has also been legislation passed that clarifies “misconduct” and stating what is, and is not, compensable for unemployment compensation benefits.
These are important changes to Oklahoma’s employment law. HB 2253 requires OESC to publish and regularly update a precedent manual. Let us hope that OESC follows the new law better than it has previous ones.
Column by Fred Morgan, President and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma, printed in The Journal Record on June 15, 2016