With millions of workers laid off or forced to quit as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, access to unemployment benefits is more important than ever. But what if your unemployment claim is denied?
The good news is that you can file an appeal and, while every state has its own set of rules and procedures, the process is similar in most jurisdictions.
Here's what you need to know.
The unemployment agency that denied your claim will send you a written notice with the reasons for its decision. Generally, your claim will be denied if you:
The reasons for the denial will not impact your ability to appeal, but you will need to gather evidence to support your appeal, so understanding what went wrong is important. (More on collecting evidence later.)
Along with your denial letter, the state unemployment agency will likely send you information on how to file an appeal and perhaps an appeal form or application.
If the agency doesn't explain the process or if you have additional questions, you should contact your state's department of labor or visit its website. (See the CareerOneStop website for a list of state unemployment agencies.)
Most state websites provide detailed information on the appeal process. New York, for example, has a video in which an administrative law judge explains everything from preparing for an unemployment hearing, to how the hearing itself is conducted, to what happens after the hearing is over. The video also explains how to request an adjournment if you cannot attend on the scheduled date.
New Jersey also has a good website that features answers to frequently asked unemployment benefits questions, and separate links that explain what to expect every step of the way.
In most cases, you can appeal via letter or through an online link at your state's department of labor website. Some states, like Indiana, accept appeals via email and fax.
Whether the state provides a specific form or not, you will usually need to give your full name and address, social security number, and reasons why you believe the agency's decision was incorrect.
Your chances of winning your appeal increase if you hire an attorney to represent you. Your lawyer can explain how the appeals process works in your state, help your file your appeal on time, and make sure that you're presenting the most persuasive case possible to the unemployment agency.
If you can't afford to hire an attorney on an hourly basis, you can ask the lawyer to work for a contingency fee. That means the lawyer collects a percentage of whatever you receive from your case; if you don't win, you pay nothing.
Every state has a deadline within which appeals must be filed and it's almost always a quick turnaround.
In Massachusetts, for example, you must file an appeal within 10 calendar days of the mailing date on your Notice of Disqualification. California, on the other hand, allows an appeal within 30 calendar days of the mailing date of the Employment Development Department's decision.
The maximum amount of time is normally 30 days but whatever the case may be, the sooner you begin the better. The longer you wait the more time goes without benefits, and the greater chance that you will accidentally miss the deadline.
If you've missed the deadline to file an appeal, most states provide a second chance if you have a good reason for the late filing. Once again, the standard depends on the state.
Massachusetts will allow you to continue if you have a "valid reason," which it describes as "good cause." Good cause, however, is undefined. New Jersey's standard is perhaps more stringent, requiring that you show the delay was caused by circumstances beyond your control that could not have been reasonably foreseen or prevented.
In most states, you'll have a decent chance at being allowed to file a late appeal if you were suffering from a serious medical issue or if you have learning difficulties that made it hard for you to understand the denial notice.
If your denial notice was sent to the wrong address and you never received it, you might be allowed to file a late appeal. But if you failed to keep the unemployment agency updated as to your current address, most states will find that you were at fault and refuse to consider your appeal.
After your appeal is filed, a hearing will be scheduled. At the hearing, you (or your lawyer) can present evidence to an appeals board or administrative law judge. Depending on your situation, some documents you might want to produce include:
Every case is different so you will not necessarily need all these records. Copies of paychecks, for example, would be important if your claim was denied because you didn't make enough money to qualify for unemployment benefits, but you believe that your employer inaccurately reported your earnings.
On the other hand, medical records could be necessary if the agency determined that you quit your job when, in reality, you were forced to leave because your employer failed to give you time off for a disability or failed to provide a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Just make sure you or your lawyer begin tracking down whatever documents you need early in the process, so you're ready to go when your hearing is scheduled.
Having witnesses advocate on your behalf is permitted and can be very helpful. In most cases, you will have an opportunity to present either written witness statements or live testimony.
Many judges give greater weight to live testimony. Just makes sure the people you choose have personal knowledge of the reasons you lost your job and can communicate in a calm and professional manner. Your lawyer can help you decide whether witness testimony will help your case.
Usually a written decision will be mailed to you after the hearing. If you receive another denial, some states offer a second level of agency review.
In New Jersey, for example, the first hearing is before an Appeal Tribunal. If you are unhappy with the outcome you have 20 days from the mailing or notification date to appeal to the Board of Review. Texas also has more than one level of appeal.
After administrative options are exhausted all states allow you to file a lawsuit in civil court.
If your claim for unemployment benefits was denied, hiring an experienced attorney to help with the appeals process is a good idea. If you can't afford an attorney, you can try contacting a legal aid organization in your area for assistance.