I’ve had a few potential clients come to my Yardley, PA office lately having represented themselves in an unemployment hearing and lost. They did not understand the unemployment appeals process and did not realize the difficulty of an appeal to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review after a hearing. With the hope that some recently unemployed person might read this and avoid the same mistake, let me describe the unemployment decision-making process in Pennsylvania.
When you file your claim online, your submitted responses are reviewed by a claim examiner to determine your eligibility for unemployment benefits. The UC office sends a questionnaire to the employer as well soliciting pertinent information on the reason for separation, length of employment, and salary or wages. After receiving the employer’s responses, the examiner issues an initial “Notice of Determination” of the claimant’s eligibility and either grants or denies benefits. Either the claimant or the employer may appeal the decision by completing and faxing or mailing the appeal form within ten days of receipt. Thereafter, a hearing will be scheduled. Hearings take place in the county where the claimant worked or was based. The Bucks County office is located in Bristol, PA.
Unfortunately, some claimants, having won the first round, think all they have to do is show up for the hearing. However, the hearing is actually a mini trial with the opportunity to introduce evidence and cross-examine witnesses. One must approach the hearing with an understanding of the issues and be prepared to introduce evidence to prove eligibility for benefits. It is at this stage that legal counsel can be the greatest value. An employment attorney can identify the issues and the evidence needed to establish your claim or, conversely, tell you to save your time and money because your claim doesn’t have any legs. Even if you choose to represent yourself at the hearing after a consultation, at least you are going in forewarned.
In one recent instance, the potential client was terminated for a violation of a company policy. The employer came to the hearing with a written policy and proof that the employee was aware of the policy through an employee handbook acknowledgement. The claimant told me the policy had largely been ignored by the employer and never enforced. However, she did not bring any witnesses or other evidence to establish this. Had she been able to do so, she may have persuaded the referee that if the employer disregarded its own rule, she should not be denied benefits for disregarding it as well.
After a hearing, a further appeal goes to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review in Harrisburg. The UCBR will reverse and/or remand for another hearing only if it determines the referee made an error of law or the record demonstrates that the referee’s decision was so clearly against the weight of the evidence that it was arbitrary and unreasonable. The UCBR will not second guess the referee’s evaluation of the credibility of the witnesses, nor will it remand for another hearing because one party wishes to introduce evidence or testimony that was available at the time of the hearing but they forgot or did not consider important at the time.
It goes without saying that your unemployment benefits are an important source of income when you’re out of work. Whether you appeal the Notice of Determination or the employer does, when a hearing is scheduled don’t go it alone.