It Won’t Be A Happy New Year For Unemployment Recipients

For approximately 1.3 million Americans, the New Year won’t be as happy or secure as the past year. That’s because the failure of Congress to extend unemployment benefits will drive them to consider selling cars, moving and taking minimum wage work after already slashing household budgets and pawning personal possessions to make ends meet.

Since 2008, the federal program of unemployment assistance paid out benefits to the unemployed after their 26 weeks of state benefits ran out. Such extended benefits lasted another 13-20 weeks. That ended on December 28, 2013.

The Unemployment Compensation Appeal Process

The Busca Law Firm represents clients in unemployment compensation appeals in Connecticut. Much like other areas of law, these administrative appeals represent a law practice specialty. So how does the process work?

Once an individual submits a claim for unemployment benefits, the Employment Security Division of the Connecticut Labor Department makes an initial decision regarding whether the individual, or “claimant,” is eligible for benefits. This is called the Administrator’s predetermination decision. It is usually made based upon the documents submitted by the claimant and the response by the employer.

Once a decision is made regarding the claimant’s eligibility or exclusion for benefits, there is only a 21 calendar day period where either the employer or the claimant may appeal the Administrator’s decision. A hearing before an Appeals Division Referee is then scheduled.

Always request an in-person hearing before the Appeals Referee. Due to the volume of unemployment compensation appeals, I have learned, quite surprisingly, that some of these appeals were handled telephonically, which does not do justice to either party in such proceedings.

At the hearing, the claimant or the employer has the right to produce documents and witnesses to support their claim or challenge to the claim. Each side has an opportunity to produce such evidence and to cross-examine witnesses. Some referees only allow such cross- examination through the referee.

To their credit, the referee submits a written decision regarding the eligibility for benefits in a short period of time. Again, each party only has 21 calendar days to appeal the referee’s written decision. This appeal then proceeds to the Board of Review. Unfortunately, a claimant or employer may not argue their case before the Board of Review in a hearing similar to the Appeals Referee hearing. This appeal is made upon the briefs and documents submitted by the parties and is governed by unemployment appeal case law.

Unemployment contested cases are very fact specific. They rise or fall based upon the rules, regulations and case law developed by the Division. Although the Division’s web site materials state that an attorney is not necessary for these appeals, the success of an unemployment claim or challenge rests upon complex issues of law specific to the Division.

For example, although a voluntary leaving of employment or resignation usually disqualifies a claimant, there are certain situations where a resignation could still entitle a claimant to benefits. These include “good cause” attributable to the employer relating to wage, hours of work and/or working conditions. An employer’s lock-out of union employees would entitle such individuals to unemployment benefits, for example. Another example is the “quit- to-care” provision, allowing an employee who resigned to collect benefits while he/she attends to the care of a seriously ill spouse, child or parent domiciled with the employee.

Proof of “willful misconduct,” an employee’s act in wilful disregard of the employer’s interest, will disqualify a claimant, as will a “knowing violation” of a reasonable and uniformly enforced rule or policy of the employer, when reasonably applied.

Unemployment compensation claims represent thousands of dollars of benefit to the claimant and an additional insurance tax on the employer based upon the number of valid claims against that employer’s account.

When faced with a claim or challenge to unemployment compensation benefits, consult with an experienced and knowledgeable employment attorney who handles such claims.

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