What Happens at a California Unemployment Hearing?
Unemployment insurance exists to protect workers who lost their jobs, or had their hours reduced, through no fault of your own. In theory, if you were laid off, had your schedule reduced or are otherwise out of work, you are eligible for unemployment.
Unfortunately, unemployment claims are often more complicated than simply filing and then getting your benefits. Your claim may be denied for any number of reasons, or your former employer may object if you are approved for unemployment. In both situations, you or your former employer may file an appeal of the decision.
Going to an unemployment hearing may sound scary. Understanding the process can help to reduce your anxiety. A skilled employment attorney can help you through the hearing, from filing the initial appeal to handling any subsequent appeals.
Filing an Unemployment Claim
If you lost your job or had your work hours reduced, you may be able to file a claim for unemployment. In California, the unemployment insurance program, or UI, provides weekly benefits for workers who lose their job through no fault of their own. UI is a federal-state program that is financed through taxes imposed on employers.
To apply for UI, you must first determine if you are eligible. The requirements for UI include:
- Fully or partially unemployed because of a layoff, furlough, reduced hours or wages;
- Your employment status has been affected by COVID-19;
- You or your family have been impacted by school closures; or
- Your unemployment claim expired.
In addition, you must be able to work, available for work, be seeking work, and be willing to accept a suitable job.
You can apply for California UI online, by phone, via fax, or through the mail. California’s online system, UI Online, is the best way to apply if you have access to the internet. As part of the application process, you will need documents that prove your identity, information on your last employer, and information about your employment history for the 18 months prior to filing.
After you file a claim, you will receive documents in the mail from the California Employment Development Department (EDD). You will need to certify for benefits every two weeks, which involves providing the EDD with information about your work and wages. You will also need to update or add your résumé to CalJOBS within 21 days of filing your claim. If the EDD needs more information about your claim, they may contact you for a phone interview or request that you verify your identity.
Generally, it takes a minimum of 3 weeks for a UI claim to be processed and for you to receive benefits. These benefits will come through an EDD Debit Card
Why Would My Claim Go to a Hearing?
In some situations, you may receive a denial of UI benefits. This may occur for a number of reasons, such as not working long enough to qualify, or if your employer claims that you quit or that you were fired for misconduct.
If the EDD denies your unemployment claim, it will send you a written notice explaining why your claim was denied. You then have a right to appeal and have a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). An appeal must be filed within 30 days of the date of the written notice on the denial. Once you file an appeal, a hearing will be scheduled.
Consider this situation:
Katy works for a company doing data entry. She was fired from her job, and she filed for unemployment. Her claim was denied, because her employer stated that she made too many mistakes at work, and that is why she was let go. Katy believes that she was fired because the owner of the company wanted to hire her nephew to take her place. Katy receives a notice of denial from the EDD, and files an appeal within a few days after receiving the notice.
Alternatively, your former employer may appeal if you are granted UI benefits, and they believe that was in error. Because their unemployment tax rate is based in part on the number of employees who file UI claims, they may also decide to appeal to try to keep their tax rate low.
What Can I Expect at an Unemployment Hearing?
A UI appeal will take place at an Office of Appeals closest to where you live or work. If you live outside of California, your appeal will be conducted via phone. While you are waiting for the hearing, you should continue to certify for benefits. That way, if you are found eligible for benefits, then you can be paid for the time period while you were waiting.
Once your hearing is scheduled with an ALJ, you will receive a notice of hearing and hearing information pamphlet. You will need to arrive at the Office of Appeals location on the day and time of the hearing, and then follow the posted instructions for checking in for the hearing. If your hearing is telephonic, you will need to call in at the appropriate date and time. While you don’t have to have a lawyer, it can be very helpful to have someone to advocate for your interests.
While you are waiting for your hearing to be calling, you can review the hearing file. When the judge calls your case, your Beverly Hills employment attorney will inform the judge who you are, and if you have witnesses. Your employer will also be present at the hearing. In the example above, Katy might bring former co-workers as witnesses, who can testify that their boss said that she was going to get rid of Katy so he can hire his nephew — and that his nephew joined the company the day after Katy was fired.
During the hearing, the ALJ will explain the procedures and the issues under review. The hearing will be recorded, but it is a less formal process than a trial in court. Each side will have an opportunity to present testimony, offer evidence, and question witnesses. The judge may also ask you and your witnesses questions. Generally, your employer will go first, providing testimony and evidence about your employment. You will then have an opportunity to cross-examine the employer and its witnesses. After the employer is done, you will have a chance to present your side of the story through witnesses and evidence. Finally, your attorney will be able to make a closing statement that describes why the claim should be decided in your favor.
After the hearing, a written decision will be mailed to you. If your UI claim is denied, you can then file a second level appeal with the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Your appeal must be filed within 30 days of date of the ALJ’s decision.