If your claim for unemployment benefits has been denied in Illinois, you may think that you're out of luck. But that's not necessarily true. In Illinois, as in all other states, you have the right to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits. If you file an appeal and win, you will receive all benefits to which you are entitled. This includes retroactive benefits: benefits from the time that your application for unemployment should have been accepted in the first place.
This article explains common reasons why unemployment claims are denied, how to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits, and how to argue your case. For more information on unemployment benefits in general, see our Collecting Unemployment Benefits page.
If your unemployment claim is denied, you will receive a Claims Adjudicator's Determination from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). The determination will explain why your claim was denied and provide information on the appeals process.
Common reasons why unemployment claims are denied include:
To qualify for benefits in Illinois (as in most states), you must have earned a minimum amount in wages from employers who are covered by the state's unemployment laws (most are) during a 12-month stretch called the "base period." In Illinois, you must have earned at least $1,600 in the base period, and at least $440 of that must be earned outside of your highest-paid quarter.
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 will not receive benefits. In Illinois, good cause means a compelling job-related reason for quitting your job, such as unsafe working conditions your employer refused to correct. Certain compelling personal reasons also qualify, including domestic violence or relocation with your military spouse.
In Illinois, you are not eligible for benefits if you were fired for misconduct. For example, if you were fired for drinking on the job or stealing from the company, you will likely be disqualified from receiving benefits. On the other hand, if you were simply a poor fit or lacked the skills to perform your job, you will probably still be eligible for benefits.
To receive benefits, you must look for new work and accept a suitable job if you are offered one. (See Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Illinois for more information on these eligibility requirements.)
It's not always worthwhile to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits. For example, if you clearly don't meet the earnings requirements, there's no point in wasting your time on an appeal. If, however, it's a close case as to whether you were fired for misconduct, filing an appeal might be a good idea.
If your claim for benefits is denied, you have 30 days to file an appeal. You can write a letter or use the Request for Reconsideration of Claims Adjudicator's Determination form. You can file your appeal online, by mail, by fax, or in person with your local IDES office.
Technically, your appeal begins as a request for IDES to reconsider its original decision denying you benefits. If the reconsideration is denied, the IDES will forward your request to the Appeals Division as an appeal. You won't need to file another document.
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 from your last job for misconduct, you might state, "Along with several coworkers, I was forced to quit my job when my employer refused to provide us with required safety equipment to work with toxic chemicals."
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.
Once it receives your appeal, the Appeals Division of the IDES will schedule a telephone hearing before a referee. You will receive a notice of hearing, explaining when the hearing will take place and how to submit evidence and witness testimony.
At the hearing, the referee 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 may be able find a free lawyer through the IDES Legal Services Program.
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, make sure you are ready on time, with your documents and any witnesses you want to present. Answer all of the referee'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.
After the hearing, the referee will issue a written decision on your claim. If you win your appeal, you don't have to do anything further.
If you lose your appeal, you have 30 days to file an appeal with the Board of Review. Typically, there won't be another hearing, and the Board will review only the evidence submitted to the referee.
If you disagree with the Board's decision, you can appeal to the Circuit Court for your county in Illinois.
If you are considering an appeal, review the helpful information in the Preparing for Your Appeals Hearing pamphlet, available at the IDES website. It includes information on what to include in your appeal, what to expect at the hearing, and more.
You may also want to consider hiring an attorney to help you with your appeal. Your employer may have an attorney present 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.