How to Appeal an Unemployment Denial in Massachusetts

If your claim for unemployment was denied, you have the right to appeal.

If your claim for unemployment benefits has been denied in Massachusetts, you may think that you’re out of luck. But that’s not necessarily true. In Massachusetts, 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 date that your application should have been accepted.

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.

Why Unemployment Claims Are Denied

You will receive a notice of disqualification from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) if your unemployment claim has been denied. This notice will list the specific reasons why your claim was denied and give you information on the appeals process.

Common reasons why unemployment claims are denied include:

  • Failing to meet the earnings requirements.  In Massachusetts, 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 order to qualify for benefits. In Massachusetts, you must have earned at least $3,500 during the base period – and at least 30 times what you will collect as a weekly benefit – to qualify for unemployment.
  • 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 will not receive benefits. In Massachusetts, good cause generally means a compelling job-related reason for quitting, such as dangerous working conditions or discrimination that your employer refused to correct. However, certain compelling and urgent personal reasons will also qualify, including domestic violence.
  • Getting fired for misconduct.  In Massachusetts, you are not eligible for benefits if you were fired for misconduct. For example, if you knowingly violated a reasonable workplace rule that is consistently enforced, you will likely be disqualified. On the other hand, if you were simply a poor fit or lacked the skills to do your job well, you will likely still be eligible for benefits.
  • 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 Massachusetts  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 is a close case as to whether you were fired for misconduct, filing an appeal might be a good idea.

How to File an Appeal

If your claim for benefits is denied, you must file an appeal within ten days of the mailing date on the disqualification notice. You may file your appeal online or by mail with the Massachusetts DUA. To file online, you can log in to the DUA's  online unemployment insurance system.

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, “I was laid off along with the rest of my department when the company outsourced our jobs.”

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 time your application should have been accepted – but only if you’ve been following the usual rules to receive benefits.

The Hearing

You will receive a hearing notice from the Massachusetts DUA Hearings Department, explaining when and where the hearing will take place and whether it will be in person or by phone.

At the hearing, the Review Examiner will ask questions, review documents, and make a decision on your appeal. Your employer will likely also 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 you have showing that you were not fired for misconduct, such as a separation notice indicating you are being 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. The hearing notice will explain how to present copies of your documents to the Review Examiner.

During the hearing, make sure you are ready on time, with your documents and any witnesses you want to present. Make sure to answer all of the Review Examiner’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 will have a chance to make a closing argument. Make sure to state all of the reasons why you believe you are entitled to benefits.

The Decision

After the hearing, the Review Examiner will issue a written decision on your claim. You will get the decision in the mail. If you win your appeal, you don’t have to do anything further.

If you lose your appeal, you can file an appeal with the Board of Review within 30 days of the mailing date of the Review Examiner’s decision. The Review Examiner's decision will explain how to file this second appeal, which you may submit electronically, by fax, by mail, or by hand.

The Board of Review will not hold another hearing or take new evidence. Instead, the Board will decide the case based on the facts that were presented to the Review Examiner. If the Board doesn’t decide in your favor, you may appeal to the Massachusetts District Court.

Next Steps

If you are considering an appeal, review the helpful information on the  Appeals page  of the Massachusetts DUA website. It includes deadlines, information on what to include in your appeal, 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. For a listing of attorneys in your area, see  Nolo's lawyer directory.

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