How to Appeal an Unemployment Denial in Washington

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

If your claim for unemployment benefits has been denied in Washington, you may think that you’re out of luck. But that’s not necessarily true. In Washington, 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 Washington, you will receive a decision letter if your unemployment claim has been denied. This letter 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 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. Washington doesn’t have an earnings requirement, but you must have worked at least 680 hours during the base period to receive benefits.
  • 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 won't be eligible for benefits. In Washington, good cause to quit includes leaving a job to relocate with a spouse or domestic partner, to care for a seriously ill family member, or to avoid unsafe working conditions that the employer won’t correct.
  • Getting fired for misconduct. In Washington, you are not eligible for benefits if you were fired for misconduct. In Washington, misconduct includes insubordination, repeated unexcused absences, or violating a reasonable company policy. Misconduct generally does not include situations where you were simply a poor fit or lacked the skills to do your job well.
  • 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 Washington 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 engaged in misconduct, filing an appeal might be a good idea.

How to File an Appeal

You must file your appeal within 30 days of the mailing date on the decision letter. You can mail or fax your written appeal to the Employment Security Department, which will forward it to the Office of Administrative Hearings. The decision letter will tell you where to send or fax your appeal; you can also find this information at the Employment Security Department's Unemployment page.

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.” Or, if the letter states that you did not work enough hours during the base period, you might say, “The Department stated that I worked 60 hours in the second quarter of 2015, but I actually worked 600 hours during that period.”

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

The Office of Administrative Hearings will send you a hearing notice, providing the time and location of the hearing and whether it will be in person or by phone. (Most hearings are held over the phone.)

At the hearing, the administrative law judge (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 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 present copies of your documents to the ALJ 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 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 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 Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) 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 Commissioner’s Review Office of the Employment Security Division within 30 days. Your appeal should explain why you disagree with the OAH’s decision. (The OAH's decision will provide additional details on how and when to file this appeal.)

If the Commissioner’s Review Office doesn’t decide in your favor, you may appeal to the Washington Superior Court.

Next Steps

If you are considering an appeal, review the helpful information in the Appeals section of the Unemployed Worker’s Handbook. 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 employment lawyers in your area, see Nolo's lawyer directory.

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