South Carolina Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson) seems to have been on a mission lately to reduce the number of people who qualify for unemployment benefits. But as is often the case with financial policy, Bryant’s crusade appears to have less to do with ideology than it does with Bryant’s own pocketbook.
In January, Bryant introduced legislation that would prevent employees who are fired from collecting any unemployment benefits from the state. Although state law already prevents employees who are fired for cause from collecting benefits, the Department of Employment and Workforce allows fired employees to appeal their firing and collect benefits in the meantime.
That’s not good enough for Bryant, who wants fired employees to lose their benefits regardless whether their firing was justified — no appeal, no nothing. The employer’s word is final, and good luck feeding your family while you find a new job.
“How can one be assured there’s fairness?” Sen. Ralph Anderson (D-Greenville) told the South Carolina Radio Network in January. “You’re listening to only the owner or the supervisor.”
It turns out that in at least one case, that owner would be Sen. Bryant himself. According to SCDEW documents, Bryant — who owns Bryant Pharmacy & Supply in Anderson — fired employee Sharon Bowers for “allegedly failing to be respectful to a co-worker at the request of management.” The firing came after a manager asked Bowers on November 23 to befriend another co-worker who had “personal issues,” but Bowers said she wouldn’t pander to the co-worker.
On November 25 — the day after Thanksgiving — Bryant called Bowers to tell her she was fired, according to the document. Bowers appealed to the Department of Employment and Workforce, allowing her to collect unemployment while SCDEW determined whether she was fired for cause.
But this is where things get interesting. Earlier this month, Bryant skipped the hearing that would’ve decided whether Bowers’ firing was justified, claiming he didn’t know he had to personally show up. As a result, SCDEW sided with Bowers, allowing her to collect unemployment benefits after all.
The conflict between Bryant and Bowers highlights the reasoning of those who oppose Bryant’s bill, which would eliminate Bowers’ opportunity to prove her firing was unjust. No one is arguing that people who are fired for showing up to work drunk should receive unemployment benefits, but eliminating benefits for someone who just had a bad day (which is understandable around the holidays and finicky co-workers) just puts an unnecessary hardship on people who are already dealing with enough stress as an unemployed worker who needs a job to make rent and eat.
But that doesn’t seem to matter to Bryant. After all, this one is personal.