How to Prepare for Unemployment Benefits Appeal Hearings
If you’ve been denied unemployment benefits by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), you may want to consider appealing their decision. Before doing so, however, you need to make sure that you weren’t denied unemployment benefits for any of the following reasons:
- You didn’t file in time —You must have earned wages in at least two of the quarters of your base period (first four of the last five quarters prior to filing); so, for example, you couldn’t wait a year after losing your job to file. That said, for obvious reasons, it’s best to file within a week of being let go so that you can potentially earn benefits sooner rather than later.
- You didn’t meet the earning requirements —Your total earnings during your base period must be 1.5 times higher than the wages you earned during your highest earning base period quarter. Also, you must have earned at least $3,400 during your base period.
- You quit your job —If you quit your job voluntarily and for no good reason, you may be denied benefits but not every “quit” will disqualify you. For example, if you quit because of unsafe working conditions that were not addressed by your former employer, you may still be eligible for benefits.
- You refused suitable work work—You can’t receive unemployment benefits if you aren’t looking for work and you must accept a suitable job if offered one.
- You were fired for misconduct —You were let go due to deliberate disregard of your employer’s interests; for example, repeatedly violating established company rules.
This last point is very important to consider because there are some instances in which misconduct can be open for interpretation; for example, chronic absenteeism or tardiness may not meet the definition of misconduct if the employer’s attendance rules are not clearly defined or enforced. If you feel as though you are eligible for benefits, you may want to consider speaking to an unemployment benefits attorney to decide if you want to proceed with filing an unemployment benefits appeal.
Filing Your Unemployment Benefits Appeal
If you decide to move forward with your appeal, you have 20 calendar days to do so after the distribution date of the determination. This means you have 20 days from the date of the determination letter or online notice not 20 days from the date you receive the determination. However, if the 20th day is a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, you may submit your appeal the next day. You may file online, by mail, or by fax, and, along with your name, address, social security number, and case number, you should include a brief explanation of why you feel as though you should receive unemployment benefits. An unemployment benefits attorney can help you with this, along with gathering witness testimony and submitting evidence on your behalf, including paperwork such as performance evaluations, employee handbooks, and warning letters.
Once you file your request and it’s been approved, the DEO typically mails your notice of hearing approximately 10 days prior to your hearing date. The notice will include the date, time, and contact information for your hearing. The appeals referee will then contact you at the specified time and conference in any additional involved parties.
During the appeal process, it’s imperative that you continue to look for work and keep a log of your job search, along with filing your weekly unemployment benefits claim. This is important because if you win your appeal, you will be entitled to unemployment benefits from the date you filed your unemployment benefits claim.
What Happens During Unemployment Benefits Appeal Hearings?
Even before you receive notification of your appeal hearing date, you’ll want to start preparing. Take some time to figure out what you want to convey and make notes of these points. As mentioned, an unemployment benefits attorney can not only gather testimony and evidence on your behalf but also prepare you for the questions you will likely have to answer during your hearing. And you’ll want to make sure you provide evidence you have to the appeals referee, but there may be reasons you do not want to provide certain information (because it is not relevant, for example). Again, an experienced attorney can assist you in making these judgment and strategy calls.
At the appeal hearing, the appeals referee will explain the purpose of the hearing and appeal procedures; reveal the contents of the case file, including disputed issues between you and your former employer; place witnesses under oath; and decide what evidence and testimony will be considered. Most important, he/she will question you, your former employer, and witnesses to obtain the facts of the case to help determine whether you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
When answering questions during the hearing, it’s important that you tell the truth and focus on the facts. Some broad questions would include:
- Dates of Employment —The referee will confirm your dates of employment with your former employer and may ask about your work schedule and the number of hours you worked each week. As mentioned, you have to have been employed during the previous year and meet the requirements of Florida’s base period.
- Job Duties —The referee will ask you questions about your job duties, along with the job duties performed by those co-workers who had similar positions. He/she will ask whether you performed your job in a manner that would be deemed as deliberately disregarding your employer’s interests.
- Work Conditions —The referee will want to know about the working conditions at your former place of employment. For example, did you work under unsafe conditions, were employer rules clearly documented and conveyed to employees, or were you discriminated against or harassed prior to being let go or leaving?
- Termination —The referee will want to know the circumstances behind your termination. Was your former employer able to demonstrate that your conduct met the statutory definition of misconduct? Under Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Law, employee misconduct is not always easy to define. The employer bears the burden of proving misconduct.
During the appeal hearing, your attorney will be able to cross-examine your former employer and any of their witnesses (and vice versa with your former employer’s attorney), as well as provide a closing statement. After the hearing, the appeals referee will notify the parties of his/her decision in writing.
If you win your appeal, you don’t have to do anything further; however, if you lose, you have 20 days to file an appeal with the Reemployment Assistance Appeals Commission, whose decision will be based on the evidence presented to the appeals referee. The commission rarely holds another hearing, so you would next need to appeal to the Florida District Court of Appeal in the county where you reside.
If you’ve been denied unemployment benefits by the DEO, it may be worth appealing their decision. However, before you do, download our free guide Wrongful Termination: When Firing Is Illegal to learn more about whether you may have been fired illegally. If you have any questions about wrongful termination or filing an unemployment benefits appeal, Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., is here to help. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.