If your claim for unemployment benefits has been denied in Pennsylvania, you may think that you’re out of luck. But that’s not necessarily true. In Pennsylvania, 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.
This article explains some 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 an Unemployment Compensation Eligibility Determination from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI). The determination will explain why your claim was denied and provide information on the appeals process.
Common reasons why unemployment claims are denied include:
In Pennsylvania (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 order to qualify for benefits.
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 Pennsylvania, you may have good cause if you quit for a compelling reason that left you no other choice, and you made every effort to keep your job. For example, if you quit for health reasons that your employer could not accommodate, or to relocate with a spouse, you will likely still receive benefits.
In Pennsylvania, you are not eligible for benefits if you were fired for misconduct. Misconduct includes intentionally violating your employer’s rules or engaging in actions that were serious or frequent enough to demonstrate intentional or careless disregard for the employer’s interests. Misconduct does not usually apply to situations where you were simply a poor fit or lacked the skills to perform your job.
To receive benefits, you must look for new work and accept a suitable job if you are offered one. (See Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania 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 15 days from the mailing date on the determination to file an appeal. You can file your appeal online, by mail, by fax, or in person at a PA Career Link location. No matter how you file, you must file your appeal with the service center listed on the determination letter.
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 time 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 Pennsylvania DOLI will schedule a hearing before a U.C. referee. You will receive a notice of hearing, explaining when and where the hearing will take place and whether it will be in person or by phone.
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 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 were 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 referee.
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 referee’s questions thoughtfully and carefully. You have the right to question your employer’s witnesses, and your employer (or its representative) 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. Make sure to state all of the reasons why you believe you are entitled to benefits.
After the hearing, the referee will mail a written decision to the parties. If you win your appeal, you don’t have to do anything further.
If you lose your appeal, you have 15 days from the mailing date on the referee’s decision to file an appeal with the U.C. Board of Review. The Board will review the record of the hearing before the referee. The Board can also remand the case back to the referee, so that additional evidence can be gathered.
If you disagree with the Board of Review’s decision, you can ask it to reconsider. However, the Board typically reconsiders its previous decisions only in very limited circumstances. You can also appeal the decision to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania; instructions for filing this appeal will be included in the Board’s decision.
If you are considering an appeal, review the helpful information in the Unemployment Compensation Appeals Information pamphlet, available at the DOLI 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 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.