Updated: May 25
Those of you who live in Cincinnati might remember the iconic Jim Beam plant north of downtown on I-75.
Before it closed in 2012, I'd worked there for several years in the HR department. It was my “dream job:” Strong company, cool product, caring leadership. Not to mention amicable union relationships and friendly, hard-working coworkers.
(I once did a bourbon tasting with Jim Beam’s nephew – I was pregnant but not telling anyone yet so I had to spit it out Knob Creek when he wasn’t looking – but that’s another story for another day).
HR is good when it’s good. But, man it’s rough when it’s not.
When we learned that the plant was closing – with nearly a two-year notice – it felt like a long and never-ending road. The parent company thought it was in the best interest of the company to shut down our 120+ person operation and move it down south to whiskey country.
How We Helped Our Staff Transition Through the Closure
We were tasked with keeping production at full capacity while everyone in the plant contemplated their next career move.
Telling employees in advance (and risking losing them) was the right thing to do, and made the challenge of the whole thing bearable. But because of the camaraderie and culture, most people stayed until the very end — proof that it was a special place.
During those days, I worked very closely with the state unemployment office – in Ohio, that’s Ohio's Job and Family Services (JFS). They were one of my first calls after learning of the closing, and they sent out their Rapid Response Team. They had all kinds of ideas, grants, and resources to help our employees not only to understand the process of collecting unemployment insurance but the transition to their next role.
We turned one of our conference rooms into a tiny JFS one-stop-shop where employees could search for jobs, work on resumes and ask any questions about unemployment insurance. It was fully staffed by resources from the state, so I would pop in there whenever I had a question or just to say hi.
Through that experience, I became quite knowledgeable on the system. And then, after I was eventually let go, I applied for unemployment insurance and collected it for several months before launching my business and landing my first client – Sam Adams Brewery (yeah, I know – there's a strong theme here...).
UI is for Us to Use
Here we are again – at a national level – as people lose their jobs and the economy plummets. And what do I find myself doing? Giving unemployment pep talks and advice. Just like those days at Beam, one day my whiteboard was full of talent acquisition requests to the next that is full of uncertainty.
Except I don’t have any free booze this time.
The one thing that I have learned is that there is often a stigma around applying and utilizing unemployment benefits. Often the biggest hurdle to helping people is convincing them to help themselves. In an effort to do so, I would like to clarify a few that I’ve heard over the years that may encourage you or someone you know to tap into these resources if you qualify and need them.
Unemployment Insurance is Insurance
Let me say this again: Unemployment IS insurance.
You know that first job you got at Wendy’s wearing a visor and asking people if they wanted to Biggie Size their fries? That’s strangely specific because it was MY first job.
You started paying into your state’s unemployment insurance fund. If you’ve ever received a paycheck with taxes and deductions, you have been paying for this benefit. It’s not a “freebie,” it’s not a “giveaway,” it’s not for the "lazy" people.
Unemployment Insurance is something built into our taxes for times when you need it. So, if you find yourself out of a job – take it. It’s yours. You have paid into the system. When you get into an auto accident, do you contemplate or feel bad about filing your claim to your insurance company? Of course not!
Unemployment insurance is the same way.
Unemployment Insurance is not Welfare
After losing my job at Beam, I mentioned to some friends that I was taking Unemployment Benefits while looking for a job.
A good friend of mine said, “Well, glad I can work so that you can enjoy those benefits.” (Luckily, his wife has a quicker wit than I do and she immediately shut him down!)
But, there is a stigma that you should take a job – any job — before collecting unemployment. I actually hear people say all the time: McDonald’s is hiring, why don’t you just get a job there?
There is nothing wrong with a McDonald's job. But the fact is that our economy runs on all kinds of jobs, people and talents: engineers, architects, bankers, construction workers, childcare providers, teachers, HR Managers. If we lose our jobs and all rush to the closest place that is hiring, the economy at large is missing out on our unique talents.
That’s the whole point of unemployment – it’s not indefinite. It’s a few months to fill the gap so you can find the right job for you and a company (and our economy at large) can equally benefit.
Plus, one of the requirements for collecting your weekly unemployment check is to be job seeking.
So, if you aren’t looking for a job, you literally can’t be collecting unemployment. Unless you are a cheater.
Applying for Unemployment Insurance is Simple
Yes, the application is a bit daunting. But if you know the following (and I bet you do), it’s easy.
According to Ohio JFS: to apply for Unemployment Insurance Benefits, you will need:
Your Social Security number
Your driver's license or state ID number
Your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address
Name, address, telephone number, and dates of employment with each employer you worked for during the past 6 weeks of employment
The reason you became unemployed from each employer
Dependents' names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth
If claiming dependents, your spouse's name, Social Security number, and birth date
If you are not a U.S. citizen or national, the alien registration number and expiration date
Your regular occupation and job skill
Your Company Does not Cut the Check for Unemployment Benefits
Part of the unemployment approval process is that JFS will send a letter to your former employer validating if the information you have provided is true.
I’ve worked with HR people in the past who take great pride in denying unemployment claims. And yes, some people apply, lie on their application and should not get it. The person who walked off the job? Not eligible. The person who flicked off their manager and ran over a puppy in the parking lot? Not eligible.
You are only eligible for unemployment if you have lost your job through no fault of your own.
But often, I see HR Managers crazy-paranoid about approving this benefit – as if the money is coming out of their paychecks!
Deep breath. While we should be helping people stay honest and support the validation process, the state is paying for this benefit through unemployment insurance taxes that all workers and corporations pay. The company does not need to reimburse the state. If the company has a lot of claims, they might have their unemployment insurance tax rate increase but they are not directly paying the bill.
Your sole unemployment insurance claim is not going to rock the company checkbook.
Don't Wait to File for Unemployment Insurance
Pride is powerful.
If you find yourself without a job it can be hard to ask for help – I’ve been there myself. And you might not politically agree with the trillions of dollars spent in relief efforts.
However, it’s there to support those in need during these tricky times, and the benefits are richer and easier to receive than ever before.
If you are eligible, please file your insurance claim.
Colleen Drennen Pfaller, the founder of A Slice of HR, assists growing businesses in recruiting and retaining top talent. Her 19+ year HR portfolio started in a small startup brewery called Samuel Adams which helped lead the disruption of an entire industry. She has a BS and MS in Human Resources from Xavier University and a Senior Professional Human Resources (SPHR) certification; the highest distinction in her field. Her practice is in Cincinnati Ohio with a special focus on Family/Closely Held Businesses, Manufacturing, Marketing & Advertising, Engineering, Financial Services, Construction, Union-Shops, and Non-for-Profits. Outside of work, she enjoys baseball, basketball, football, Pokémon Go, Avenger movie nights, Baby Yoda and everything else that comes with hanging out with her husband, Keith, and supporting the interests of their three incredible boys.
She is also an avid reader, writer, and (reluctant) speaker. Her HR expertise has been featured in Money Magazine, NPR’s Marketplace, Thrive Global, CareerBuilder, Spark Hire, Fit Small Business, Undercover Recruiter, Bento for Business, National SHRM, Disrupt HR and she writes a column for Human Resources Today.