Unemployment Appeals

This page provides answers to the following questions:

1. I was turned down for benefits, and think the state was wrong in determining that I was not eligible. Can I appeal the state's determination?

2. What if my employer disagrees with the decision to award me benefits? Can my employer appeal?

3. Do I need a lawyer to represent me in an unemployment appeal?

4. How should I prepare for an unemployment appeal?

5. What evidence can I present at the appeal hearing?

6. How should I conduct myself at the hearing?

7. What will happen at the hearing?

8. What if I miss the deadline to file my appeal?

9. What should I do if I cannot attend the hearing?

10. What happens if I win my appeal?

11. What happens if I lose my appeal?

12. Once the appeal has been issued, is there any right to appeal further if I am unhappy with the result?

13. Where can I find more information?

1. I was turned down for benefits, and think the state was wrong in determining that I was not eligible. Can I appeal the state's determination?

Yes. Every state has a system in place for individuals to challenge determinations about their eligibility for benefits. This system must include, at a minimum, the opportunity to present evidence and to confront an opposing witness as part of a hearing before an impartial administrative law judge. You should become familiar with the rules in your state.

It is especially important to comply with any deadlines for requesting a hearing and for appealing decisions, as these deadlines, depending on your state, will be within one to four weeks after the notice that your claim was denied was mailed to you.

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2. What if my employer disagrees with the decision to award me benefits? Can my employer appeal?

Yes. The unemployment system also provides an opportunity for employers who believe their former employees are not entitled to benefits to appeal the initial determination awarding benefits, as employers with a high number of unemployment claims must pay higher unemployment premiums.

While in some cases, employees are wrongfully collecting benefits, and the employer's position is justified, there are employers who as a matter of policy always challenge unemployment benefit awards, even when their former employees are legally entitled to benefits. For example, the employer may claim that you quit, when in truth, you were laid off for lack of work. If your employer challenges your award, you need to be prepared to respond, or you may lose the benefits to which you are entitled.

You will be notified in writing if your employer appeals your award, and will be able to continue collecting benefits until a decision is issued in your case. However, if you lose, you may be required to repay all or part of the benefits you were initially awarded.

The appeals process generally operates the same way, whether initiated by you after a denial of benefits, or by your employer after you have been awarded benefits.

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3. Do I need a lawyer to represent me in an unemployment appeal?

You can either hire an attorney or represent yourself in the hearing. The process is designed for non-lawyers, so don't be intimidated if you don't have a lawyer. Every day thousands of unemployed workers win UI benefit appeals without the benefit of a lawyer. However, if your employer is appealing (and has a practice of appealing all or most unemployment claims), then be prepared for your employer to have a lawyer and/or to use an agency which specializes in opposing unemployment claims.

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4. How should I prepare for an unemployment appeal?

You will want to prepare an organized presentation of why the state was wrong to deny you benefits. For example, if you are accused of having engaged in misconduct, you will want to present evidence (which may include documents and/or witnesses) to show that you did not do what they accuse you of or that whatever you did was only a mistake rather than intentional conduct. Each case is different, so you will want to prepare arguments that are specific to your set of facts.

The important part of preparing for the hearing is to be able to explain your situation persuasively. The normal rules of evidence and procedure do not apply in UI hearings. Rather, the judge is supposed to help you to present your case. Nevertheless, your chances are much better if you come prepared with clean copies of important documents and an understanding of the rules.

Why you have been denied (or your employer is challenging your) unemployment benefits?
You may be able to look at your unemployment file before the hearing. Typically, your notice of hearing will explain briefly why you are denied benefits. Think about what your employer is likely to say about you. You want to prepare to answer their charges.

Why do you believe you should be eligible to collect benefits?
It may be that you didn't commit the act of misconduct for which you are charged or that you have an excuse for why it was a mistake, not intentional. You may need to demonstrate why you had good reason to quit or why you actually didn't quit at all but were told that you were being fired. Whatever the theory, you need to be able to explain it clearly and develop it with evidence.

Some states have user-friendly explanations of the unemployment law. Use those resources to identify what you need to prove to be eligible for benefits. Links to information regarding legal rules and resources are below.

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5. What evidence can I present at the appeal hearing?

Evidence typically presented at an appeal hearing includes oral testimony from you and from witnesses, and documentary evidence such as letters, business records, phone bills, etc. that you can use to substantiate your version of events. If this evidence is in your employer's possession, you can ask the administrative law judge to subpoena the records. A judge can also issue a subpoena to an individual witness to require them to attend the hearing and testify.

You can bring notes with you to the hearing. You will want to bring multiple copies of any documents that you want to present as evidence to be able to give to the judge and the other side.

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6. How should I conduct myself at the hearing?

Be calm, and professional. Present your case in an organized and concise fashion. Do not view the hearing as an opportunity to seek revenge or insult your former employer. Typically, unemployment hearings involve a "he said-she said" dispute in which it is your word against your employer's. Therefore, it is critical that you appear calm, intelligent, and reasonable. Judges are generally more likely to believe the employer because they think that you have an economic motivation to lie. Use your knowledge of the facts and any evidence you have to show that your version is supported by the facts.

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7. What will happen at the hearing?

The judge typically will ask you questions, which you should answer. If there is anything that you believe is important that the judge leaves out, you should respectfully ask for the opportunity to testify about it. After you testify, you will have the opportunity to ask questions of the other side and ultimately to make a closing statement of why you should receive unemployment benefits.

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8. What if I miss the deadline to file my appeal?

Generally, unemployment agencies strictly enforce their deadlines. Therefore, it is very important to promptly open every piece of mail that you receive regarding your unemployment and to review it closely for any mention of hearing or appeal rights. However, if you did not actually receive the correspondence which was supposed to notify you of the decision and your right to appeal (or received it after the deadline because you were out of town, etc.), most agencies will allow your appeal even though you missed the deadline.

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9. What should I do if I cannot attend the hearing?

You should contact the hearing department (generally by phone) to find out how to request an adjournment (rescheduling) of your hearing. Make sure to follow up any such request in writing (and to retain a copy) in order to make a paper record. You should explain why you are unable to attend and ask for it to be rescheduled. In some states (e.g. New York), the agency may deny your request for an adjournment, but will still allow you to request a new hearing after the first hearing goes forward without you.

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10. What happens if I win my appeal?

If you win the appeal, you will be entitled to collect benefits in the future. You will also be entitled to collect any benefits that you certified for but were not paid following the initial determination of ineligibility. Therefore, it is critical that you continue to certify for benefits while you are awaiting your appeal. Your employer (or the state) may still appeal the new decision to a higher level. Watch for any correspondence from the employer or the unemployment agency. You may be required to submit a written letter explaining why the appeal decision was correct.

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11. What happens if I lose my appeal?

Most states provide a written decision that explains the basis of the decision and the effect of the decision. It is important to read it closely to determine the exact implications. You may be found ineligible for benefits, in which case you won't be eligible again until after you've earned a certain amount of money from a future job. You may also be required to repay benefits that you've received. Alternatively, the decision may find that you were ineligible for a certain period of time but allow you to collect benefits after that period. If you have questions, call the unemployment agency to get clarification. If you disagree with the decision, you may be able to appeal it.

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12. Once the appeal has been issued, is there any right to appeal further if I am unhappy with the result?

Most states provide multiple levels of review of unemployment decisions, with the final decisions going to an appeal court. If you lose the first round appeal or hearing, you can typically appeal that decision to an appeal board that is part of the same unemployment agency. Read the decision closely for information on how to appeal and follow the rules (including the deadlines) closely. Most appeals to an appeal board involve only a written submission, rather than any in-person testimony. You must explain why you believe that the judge's decision was incorrect--be specific and point to clear errors in the facts or the law.

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