It is almost a foregone conclusion that when an employee departs from your business or organization involuntarily, an application for unemployment benefits will follow. It is another foregone conclusion that that unemployment claim will generate paperwork, sometimes quite a bit of it. A typical practice of employers is to place documents related to an unemployment claim in the former employee's personnel file. This may not be the best place for those documents, however, should future litigation ensure.

Ohio law provides that documents maintained by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) or provided to ODJFS shall not be open to the public, shall not be used in court in any action or proceeding, and shall not be admissible in evidence. R.C. 4141.21. However, courts have recently began to chip away at this protection, holding that if these documents are obtained from a source not connected with ODJFS, then the protection of R.C. 4141.21 may not apply. The most common way that these documents come to light is through an employee's personnel file during the discovery phase of a lawsuit. If unemployment documents are produced along with the personnel file, then the former employee has an argument that they should be admissible at trial. While these documents typically reflect the reason and details related to the separation, there may be reasons why an employer would not want them to be placed in the public domain.

One way to afford your company or organization some protection is to maintain documents related to an unemployment claim separate from the personnel files. They may still be requested in discovery, but an employer's attorney will have a basis to argue that they are not personnel documents, but rather are documents protected from disclosure pursuant to R.C. 4141.21. There is no guarantee that an employer will not have to produce them, but it may provide some argument that an employer should not be required to.