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Incompetence is not a valid reason for denying a fired employee state unemployment benefits, a sometimes unfriendly audience of area employers was told Tuesday by the director of the state's Unemployment Insurance Division.

"You hired the employee," Dominic Rotondi told the group of approximately 80 persons attending a seminar in the Sheraton Hotel Buffalo sponsored by the Buffalo Job Service Employers' Committee.

Some of the employers, who are assessed a portion of the unemployment benefits paid to terminated or laid-off workers, complained that they are forced to pay even when an employee is found to be dishonest or incompetent.

Rotondi said that fired workers can be denied unemployment insurance if it can be proven they have stolen from the company or committed some other criminal act. But, he continued, "We do pay employees who are discharged because the employer says they are incompetent."

The unemployment benefit program is designed to help workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, Donald Sticklor, chief administrative law judge for the Unemployment Division, said. "We don't want to pay a single claim that is unjustified."

Sticklor said the 55 hearing judges under him hold an average of 60,000 hearings annually involving disputes between employers and employees over the payment of unemployment benefits.

He advised the employers and their representatives to come prepared with the facts, materials and witnesses to back up their claims, just as they would in a court of law.

Quite often, he said, one side or the other views the hearing as the opportunity to express anger and resentment. But, he continued, anger won't win your case. "A hearing is not the place to spill your guts," he said.

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