How to Appeal an Unemployment Denial in Tennessee

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

If your claim for unemployment benefits has been denied in Tennessee, you may think that you’re out of luck. But that’s not necessarily true. In Tennessee, 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 common reasons why unemployment claims are denied, how to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits, and how to persuasively argue your case. For more information on unemployment benefits in general, see our Collecting Unemployment Benefits page.

Why Unemployment Claims Are Denied

In Tennessee, you will receive a Letter of Determination if your unemployment claim has been denied. This document 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 Tennessee, 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. (For more on the earnings requirements, and the other eligibility requirements listed below, see Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Tennessee.)
  • 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 related to your job, you won’t be eligible for benefits. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DLWD) decides whether a claimant had good cause to quit on a case-by-case basis. The DLWD may find, for example, that you had good cause if you quit to escape domestic violence or to accompany a military spouse who was transferred to another location.
  • Getting fired for misconduct. In Tennessee, you are not eligible for benefits if you were fired for misconduct. If you were simply a poor fit or lacked the skills to do your job well, you will likely still be eligible for benefits. But if you were fired for intentionally violating a workplace policy or being so careless that it showed a disregard for your employer’s interests, you may be disqualified.
  • Refusing suitable work. To receive benefits, you must look for new work and accept a suitable job if you are offered one.

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 call as to whether you engaged in misconduct, filing an appeal might be a good idea.

How to File an Appeal

You must file your appeal within 15 days from the mailing date on the Letter of Determination. You can mail or fax your written appeal to the Appeals Tribunal of the Tennessee DLWD; you can find a blank copy of the appeal form on the DLWD's website. You may also file your appeal online by going to the DLWD's Appeal of Agency Decision page.

When you file your appeal, make sure to briefly explain why you believe you should receive benefits. For example, if the Determination 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.” Or, if the Determination states that you did not earn enough during the base period, you might say, “The Determination misstated my earnings from the last quarter of 2014, which should have been $4,500 rather than $450.”

Throughout the appeal process, you should file weekly claims for unemployment benefits, look for work, and keep records of your job search efforts, 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

Once you file your appeal, the Appeals Tribunal will schedule a hearing, to take place in person or by phone. You’ll receive a written Notice of Hearing, providing the date and time of your hearing, as well as information on how to prepare.

At the hearing, the Appeals Hearing Officer 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 that shows 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 to prove 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 get copies of your documents to the Appeals Hearing Officer before the hearing.

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 Appeals Hearing Officer’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 Appeals Tribunal will issue a written decision, stating whether you should receive benefits. 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 Office of Administrative Review. You must file your appeal within 15 days from the mailing date of the Appeals Tribunal's decision. You may file this appeal by fax or by mail.

Typically, the Office of Administrative Review doesn't hold another hearing. You may submit additional evidence with your appeal. If it's relevant to the issues on appeal, the Office may decide to hold another hearing. However, it usually decides the appeal based on only the evidence originally submitted to the Appeals Tribunal.

Next Steps

If you are considering an appeal, review the helpful information on the appeals page of the Tennessee DLWD. It includes deadlines, information on preparing for the hearing, links to forms, 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 employment lawyers in your area, see Nolo's lawyer directory.

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