If you’ve been laid off, wrongfully terminated, or forced to quit, you are most likely entitled to unemployment. But what happens when you meet your state’s criteria for unemployment benefits and apply to receive them, only to have your claim denied?
In general, to be eligible for unemployment, you must be unemployed through no fault of your own, meet work and wage requirements, and meet additional state requirements. There may also be special circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
You Can Fight an Unemployment Claim Denial
If you have filed an unemployment benefits claim and your claim is turned down by your state’s unemployment insurance program or contested by your employer, you have the right to appeal the denial of your unemployment claim.
Don’t assume that one denial is the end of the claims process. Even if you quit your job, there are cases in which you might be entitled to benefits.
The process of appealing a claim may vary depending on your location, so check with your state department of labor for guidelines on what to do when your unemployment claim is denied. They’ll also be able to provide you with information on how to file an unemployment appeal.
Unemployment Appeal Board Hearings
If you do file an appeal, then you’ll need to prepare for an unemployment hearing. A hearing is an informal trial held before an unemployment appeals board and/or an administrative law judge. Based on the evidence presented, a decision will be made on whether you are entitled to unemployment insurance benefits.
At the hearing, you, your employer, and witnesses for both sides may testify. Both you and your employer will have the opportunity to present evidence.
Before You File an Unemployment Appeal
If you plan to file an unemployment appeal, you'll need to make sure you're prepared in order to have the greatest chance of success.
First, review the process for filing an appeal. You can find instructions on how to appeal an unemployment claim denial on your state department of labor website. You may be able to file an appeal online, by fax, mail, in person, or on the phone.
Remember to pay attention to the calendar. In some states, you have a limited amount of time to appeal your unemployment claim denial and file an appeal—sometimes as little as 10 days. Claims filed after the deadline will not be considered, so it pays to begin your appeal ASAP.
When You Appeal an Unemployment Denial
Review the information from your state department of labor website on what you need to submit to file an appeal. In some cases, an appeals form will be included with the notice that your claim has been denied, but double-check the website for additional information. Be sure to submit all the information prior to the deadline for filing a claim.
Collect Supporting Documentation
Be ready with two copies of any written information you have available, including warnings, time sheets, contracts, medical records, contracts and your personnel file—anything that supports your position that the termination wasn’t for cause. The more supporting documentation you have, the better chance you will have of winning an appeal.
If you have witnesses with personal knowledge of the circumstances leading to you losing your job, it can be very helpful. Bring the witnesses with you or have them ready for a phone or virtual unemployment appeal hearing so they can testify on your behalf.
The best witnesses are those who will make a positive impression on the board or judge. If you have your choice of a few potential witnesses, look for those who have a calm, professional demeanor and solid communication skills—and make sure that they know to dress appropriately and that they understand your position and what’s needed to make your case.
Consider Legal or Professional Representation
You may bring legal or other professional representation to the unemployment appeal hearing. If you hire representation in the form of an employment lawyer, be sure to ask about fees and other costs involved, so you can decide if it is worth the expense.
While the Appeal Process Is Taking Place
The appeals process can take time, so you'll have to wait for the final verdict. While you wait, there are a few things you can do.
Keep Filing for Unemployment
Continue to file for unemployment payments as scheduled until you have gone through the appeals process—and don’t press pause on your job search process. Unemployment benefits are generally contingent on the recipient looking for work. You don’t want to get all the way through your appeals process, only to discover that you’re disqualified from receiving benefits because you are not actively job searching.
Attend All Unemployment Appeal Board Hearings
Not showing up for an unemployment appeal hearing can be grounds for your appeal to be denied. If you are not able to attend, be prepared to provide documentation, e.g., a doctor's note on why you can't be there and advise the board in advance, when possible.
But make a real effort to attend—even the best documentation can’t overcome human bias. Showing up tells the board that you’re serious, reliable, and committed to seeing this through.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Was I Denied Unemployment?
If you are denied unemployment, it may be because your state does not deem you eligible under its guidelines. Common reasons for denials include: voluntarily leaving work without a good cause, being discharged for misconduct, not being available and willing to work, refusing an offer of work, or making false statements to obtain benefits.
How Long Does an Unemployment Appeal Take?
After you receive your unemployment benefits denial in the mail, in most cases, you'll have between 10 and 30 days to file your appeal—it just depends on your state's laws. After your appeal board hearing, you will generally hear back with a decision within several weeks; again, it depends on your state.
If I Win My Unemployment Appeal, When Will I Get Paid?
If you win your unemployment appeal, you will be eligible to receive unemployment benefits, including any that you missed throughout the appeals process. In general, you can expect these payments to begin within a few weeks after the appeal's verdict is reached. However, some states may impose a mandatory one-week waiting period.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.