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How to Keep Your SUI Rate as Low as Possible

By Gusto on October 22, 2019

This article is written by our friends at Gusto.



When you’re running a business, sometimes you’ll take every opportunity you can to cut down on expenses. But in some cases, those savings come with a little extra work. Cutting down on expenses can require some pretty dialled processes—and those processes rarely build themselves

In this post, we’ll talk about protecting your SUI rate—one surefire way to save your business money right now, and as you grow.

Wait, what’s the SUI rate?

Many states tax employers to fund their state unemployment insurance (SUI). The SUI tax rate is specific to a particular business, and is based on the “wage base” set by each state, along with the number of former employees who have filed for unemployment benefits in the past.

In most cases, the more former employees who have collected unemployment benefits you have, the higher their SUI tax rate will be.

Alrighty then, what’s “protecting the SUI rate”?

Let’s say a business in California pays five employees an average of $55,000 (where the wage base is $7,000) and has a current SUI rate of 6% (California’s lowest SUI rate is 2%). This costs the employer $2,100 per year.

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If the business doubles its headcount and we assume everything else stays the same, the SUI cost will increase to $4,200. Now, if this employer improved their practices, it could reduce its SUI rate to 2%, and save almost $3,000 in the process.

These savings will only increase as the business continues to hire more people, and that’s what we mean by “protecting the SUI rate.”

How to protect your SUI rate

You may be surprised to learn just how easily a former employee can establish a successful unemployment claim. The biggest misconception many employers have is that terminating an employee for substandard performance will disqualify the individual from receiving unemployment benefits.

The reality is, in most states, unless the employee’s behavior rises to a level of “misconduct,” they will be deemed eligible for unemployment benefits. That means terminating an employee for “poor performance,” “incompetence,” or “inability to perform the job,” will almost always result in the state unemployment agency deeming the former employee eligible for unemployment benefits, which may adversely affect a business’s SUI rate.

To further complicate things, not only does an employer have to show that the employee’s behavior constitutes misconduct as defined by state law, but they have to prove that the claimant either knew or should have known that they could lose their job as a result of the behavior. Documentation that clearly illustrates these points, to successfully contest unemployment claims and protect your SUI rate will be critical.

So what to do? Here are some best practices for both before and after terminating an employee:

Pre-termination

Provide the employee with a written warning regarding the misconduct
Although no law requires notice before termination, doing so may help in defending a potential unemployment claim. Also, if employees have been led to believe that certain disciplinary steps will occur prior to termination (such as verbal or written warnings), the employer should make a good faith attempt to follow those steps, or else risk losing the unemployment claim.

Distribute an employee handbook and obtain signed acknowledgment forms
Employers have a much better chance of successfully defending an unemployment claim if they can cite the policy that was violated. Distributing an employee handbook is an excellent way of demonstrating how employees were made aware of the policy, and the consequences of noncompliance.

Investigate all workplace complaints
In most states, if an employee resigns with “good cause,” they will be eligible for unemployment benefits. If the individual can show that they complained of a serious workplace concern, but the employer took no action to address the allegation or if the employer retaliated somehow against the claimant, the former employee is generally eligible for unemployment benefits.

Remember the “reasonable person” standard
This is a common guideline used when making unemployment decisions. Considering whether a reasonable person would terminate an employee given the circumstances before making the termination decision is a crucial step in the process.

Treat employees fairly and consistently concerning termination decisions
State personnel processing unemployment claims are themselves employees, not employers, and they will have opinions about what they consider fair treatment. It is essential to keep this perspective when terminating employees.

Post-termination

Submit all unemployment-related paperwork on time
If an employer fails to return the state unemployment division’s request for information relating to the reason for the termination or separation, it could be considered a “disinterested party,” and the claimant may automatically receive unemployment benefits. Be sure to keep your address with the state unemployment insurance agency up to date so there are no delays receiving requests for information.

Include documentation that supports your case
This can include: 1) Copies of the signed employee handbook demonstrate that a company rule was violated; 2) Copies of corrective action; 3) Copies of performance reviews that prove that the employee was aware that their job was in jeopardy and didn’t correct the behavior by the agreed upon deadline.

Appeal the decision if you disagree
If you disagree with the initial determination, you have the right to appeal. Simply submit the appeal paperwork on time and request a telephone hearing.

Prepare for the appeal hearing
Don’t waste everyone’s time by showing up with a defense, of “This is a travesty of justice,” or “They’re lying.”

Attend the appeal hearing
Obviously.

There’s no secret formula to protecting the SUI rate. Develop the processes, implement them, and follow them. Do all those things, and you’ll be in good shape.


This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

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