How to Appeal an Unemployment Denial in California

If your claim for unemployment has been denied, you have the right to file an appeal.

Have you been denied unemployment benefits in California? If so, you aren’t necessarily out of luck. In California (as in every other state), you can appeal a denial of unemployment benefits. If you win your appeal, you will receive all benefits to which you are entitled, including retroactive benefits from the date your application should have been accepted in the first place.

This article explains some common reasons why unemployment claims are denied, how to file an appeal, and what to expect at the appeal hearing. For more information on unemployment benefits in general, see our  Collecting Unemployment Benefits  page.

Why Unemployment Claims Are Denied

If your unemployment claim is denied, you will receive a Notice of Determination from the California Employment Development Department (EDD). The determination will explain why your claim was denied and provide information on the appeals process.

Common reasons why unemployment claims are denied include:

  • Failing to meet the earnings requirements.  To qualify for benefits in California (as in most states), you must have earned a minimum amount in wages during a 12-month stretch called the “base period."
  • Getting fired for misconduct.  Under California law, you will be denied benefits if you were fired for misconduct. In California, misconduct is defined quite narrowly. To be disqualified for misconduct, you must have committed a substantial breach of a material duty you owed your employer, in a manner that showed a willful or reckless disregard of your obligations and tended to harm your employer’s interests. Simple mistakes, carelessness, or poor performance generally won’t qualify as misconduct.
  • Quitting your last job.  To collect unemployment, you must be out of work through no fault of your own. So if you quit your job voluntarily, without good cause, you may not receive benefits. In California, good cause means a compelling work or personal reason, one that would have caused someone who truly wanted to keep the job to quit.
  • Refusing  suitable work.  To receive benefits, you must look for new work and accept a suitable job if you are offered one. (See  Collecting Unemployment Benefits in California  for more information on these eligibility requirements.)

It doesn’t always make sense to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits. For example, if you simply haven’t earned enough to qualify, there’s no point in wasting your time on an appeal. If, however, it's a close case as to whether you had good cause to quit, filing an appeal might be a good idea.

How to File an Appeal

If your claim for benefits is denied, you have 20 days to file your appeal to the California EDD. You may file your appeal only by mail, to the address shown on the determination notice.

When you file your appeal, make sure to briefly explain why you believe you should receive benefits. For example, if the decision letter states that you were denied benefits because you were fired for misconduct, you might state, “I was forced to quit my job because my doctor advised me that my job was endangering my health, and my employer was unable to grant my request for a reasonable accommodation or job transfer."

Throughout the appeal process, you should file weekly claims for unemployment benefits, look for work, and keep records of your job search, just as you would if your application for benefits had been granted. This may seem like a waste of time, but it’s not. If you win your appeal, you will be entitled to benefits retroactively from the date your application should have been accepted – but only if you’ve been following the usual rules to receive benefits.

The Hearing

After your appeal is received, the EDD will review it to confirm whether you should have received benefits. If the EDD decides that you should have been granted benefits, you will receive a notice to that effect. Otherwise, the EDD will forward your appeal to the Office of Appeals.

The Office of Appeals will schedule a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). You will receive a notice about the hearing, explaining when the hearing will take place, whether the hearing will be in person or by phone, and how to submit evidence and witness testimony.

At the hearing, the ALJ will ask questions, review documents, and make a decision on your appeal. Your employer will also likely attend the hearing and may be represented by an attorney. You may hire an attorney to represent you, too.

You should be prepared to present all of the evidence showing that you should have received unemployment benefits. If there is a dispute over why you were fired, for example, you should submit any documents showing that you were not fired for misconduct, such as a separation notice indicating you were laid off for lack of work. You may also want to present witnesses who can support your side of the story, such as a coworker who was laid off at the same time and was given the same information as you.

During the hearing, be available on time, with your documents and any witnesses you want to present. Make sure to answer all of the ALJ’s questions thoughtfully and carefully. You have the right to question your employer’s witnesses, and your employer has the right to question you and your witnesses. Once all the evidence has been heard, you’ll have a chance to make a closing argument.

The Decision

After the hearing, the ALJ will issue a written decision on your claim. If you win your appeal, you don’t have to do anything further.

If the ALJ decides against you, you have 20 days to file an appeal with the Appeals Board. You can file this appeal by mail, to the address shown on the ALJ’s decision. Ordinarily, the Appeals Board won’t consider new evidence. However, if you have a good reason for not presenting the evidence earlier, you can make a request to the Board.

If you disagree with the Appeals Board’s decision, you have six months to file a Writ of Mandate with the California Superior Court. The Appeals Board’s decision will explain how to file this appeal.

Next Steps

If you are considering an appeal, review the helpful information and links on the  Appeals page  of the EDD website. There, you’ll find information on deadlines, what to include in your appeal, how the hearing works, and more.

You may also want to consider hiring an attorney to help you with your appeal. Your employer may have an attorney at the hearing. If so, having a lawyer on your side will help even the odds. An attorney can question witnesses, help you decide what evidence would be most helpful, and present legal arguments about why you should have been awarded unemployment benefits.

However, you’ll have to consider whether the cost of hiring an attorney is worth what you might win in benefits. An attorney should be willing to meet with you for a quick consultation to review your case, explain your chances of winning the appeal, and talk about fees. If you have a strong case and the fees are reasonable, it might make sense to hire a lawyer to represent you.

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