Denied Unemployment Benefits: The Unemployment Appeal Process

If your unemployment claim is denied, here's how to appeal the decision.

Once you file a claim for unemployment benefits, the state unemployment agency will review the information you provide, talk to your past employer, and possibly interview you (most likely by phone). After its review is complete, the agency will either grant or deny your claim for unemployment benefits. If your claim is granted, you will soon start filing weekly claims for unemployment benefits—and receiving your unemployment checks. But what if your claim is denied?

If your claim for unemployment compensation is denied, you can file an appeal arguing that the agency's finding was incorrect. This article explains some common reasons why claims for unemployment benefits are denied and provides some basic information on the appeals process.

Denied for Unemployment During the Coronavirus Pandemic? Here's What You Need to Know.

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many states have temporarily loosened their eligibility requirements for unemployment compensation. In addition, the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which allows all states to expand unemployment eligibility (through the end of 2020) to many people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify under state laws. Under this program, self-employed individuals, gig workers, and those who don’t have enough work history under their state’s laws will generally qualify for benefits if they’re unable to work for certain reasons related to COVID-19.

If your unemployment claim was denied, and you believe you would be eligible under the PUA program or your own state’s expanded eligibility rules, your next step will depend on where you live and how your state implements the PUA program. For example, some states might require you to file a separate application to receive benefits under the PUA program. In other states, you might need to receive an unemployment denial before you can be considered for eligibility under the PUA program. And if your claim was denied under your state’s old rules, you might be able to get a second look before you need to file an appeal. In Arizona, for instance, you can ask for a redetermination of your claim based on the latest eligibility requirements.

Wherever you live, it’s important that you keep checking with your state unemployment insurance office for updated information. And if you can’t get through on phone lines or the website keeps crashing, try and try again.

Why Unemployment Claims Are Denied

If your unemployment claim is denied initially, the agency probably found that you are ineligible for unemployment benefits because:

Denial of Unemployment for Voluntarily Quitting Your Job

You may still be eligible for unemployment benefits if you quit your last job, as long as you had a good reason (as defined by state law) for doing so. If you were denied unemployment benefits because you quit your job, however, that means the state agency decided your reasons for quitting the job didn't qualify.

Denial of Unemployment for Being Fired For Misconduct

Being fired from your job doesn't necessarily disqualify you from unemployment benefits. It depends on why you were terminated. If the reasons your employer gave for firing you meet your state's definition of misconduct, you claim may be denied. (Learn more about unemployment benefits after being fired.)

Denial of Unemployment for Not Having Sufficient Earnings or Work During the Base Period

Each state imposes earnings and/or work requirements as explained in Nolo's article Unemployment Compensation: Understanding the Base Period. If the agency finds you don't meet those requirements, it may deny your claim. You may have earned income from a source that doesn't count towards these requirements (for example, from a side business). Or your employer may have incorrectly reported your earnings.

Even if your unemployment claim is initially granted, you may later be denied unemployment benefits if you don't meet the ongoing requirements. For example, if you turn down suitable work, aren't available for work (you take a long trip, for example), or you don't report earnings you receive while collecting unemployment benefits, the state may deny your claim going forward. (Learn more about the work availability and search requirements.)

How to Appeal a Denial of Unemployment

Every state has a process you can use to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits. Usually, you have to file your appeal fairly quickly. State time limits range from ten to 30 days or so after the agency mails you notice that your claim has been denied. The notice you receive may explain how to appeal the decision and may even include an appeal form.

Typically, if you request an appeal, a hearing will be scheduled. At the hearing, you will be able to present any evidence you have that your claim should have been granted. (The employer has the same right.) For example, if you think you earned enough to qualify for unemployment benefits but your employer misreported your earnings, you might bring in your wage stubs or copies of deposited paychecks to prove that you were paid more than the employer claimed.

You may also be able to bring in witness testimony -- either by questioning witnesses in person or asking them to submit written statements. This could be important if the reasons why you left your last job are in dispute. For example, if the unemployment agency found that you voluntarily quit, but you actually left because of ongoing sexual harassment, you might be able to present testimony from coworkers who witnessed the harassment or a note from your doctor indicating that your health was suffering because of the harassment.

The person conducting the hearing will make a decision on your appeal. If you win and are granted unemployment benefits, you are entitled to continue receiving the benefits, even if the employer appeals that decision at a higher level of review. Basically, once you get a positive ruling, you are entitled to unemployment benefits until someone else rules differently.

If you are denied unemployment benefits at the hearing, in some states, a second level of agency review is available. This means that either you or the employer can appeal the original appeal decision within the state unemployment agency. Whether or not your state provides this second level of internal appeal, every state allows you to make an appeal to the state's court system.

Learn more about the unemployment appeals process in certain states. You can also contact your state unemployment insurance agency.

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