Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Employment Rights | Unemployment Insurance Benefits For Me?

Before the economic downturn you never thought it would happen to you, but all of a sudden you're unemployed. You don't need a lawyer to tell you that unemployment not only hurts your pocketbook, but it also hurts your dignity.

I enjoy helping people get back on their feet, so I have represented many people seeking unemployment benefits. I meet all sorts of people who have recently lost their jobs. Many people I meet are good and decent. The range of people is extraordinary. I hear from people who are young, old, men, women, immigrants, educated, rich, poor . . . you get the idea. You are not alone.

To determine whether you are eligible for unemployment, the honest-to-goodness best option is to speak to a lawyer who is knowledgeable in the area of unemployment appeals employment law. If you look up the laws on your own, you risk knowing only part of the laws. Or you risk misinterpreting a law, performing poorly at the hearing, or setting in stone a lousy record for appeal. Once you have a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge, the challenge to reverse the decision increases tremendously because you almost always cannot add information to what was already said or not said.

But, still, it is wise to read the laws and there is helpful information for lay persons at the Employment Security Department website. You may be eligible for benefits if you worked at least 680 hours in your base year in a job covered by Unemployment Insurance, are fully or partially unemployed, are unemployed through no fault of your own, are able, available, and actively seeking suitable work, are legally authorized to work in the United States (if not a US Citizen), and did not earn too much money during a week / did not have other disqualifying income.

A major distinction is whether you quit or were fired. If you quit, you must prove good cause. If you were fired, the employer must prove misconduct. The RCW and WAC explain what good cause and misconduct include and exclude, although most of the law is relatively broad. So, this means the judge will have a lot of power to influence the outcome of the case. Generally, a worker is better off with a misconduct case, and the employer is generally at a greater advantage in a quit case.

As they say, "The devil is in the details." I meet many well-intentioned people who try to navigate the unemployment process on their own - after all who can afford a lawyer when you're unemployed - but  mistakes inevitably arise. Many people feel surprised that they do not receive benefits; they did not anticipate a struggle. But there almost always is one.

Document filing, oral hearings, and writing appeals all matter. Almost always, the process will take longer than you think. Consulting with an attorney knowledgeable in this area of law is well worth the investment.

So, now you have a bird's eye view of the potentially lengthy process before you receive benefits. In the meantime, keep your chin up while looking for that new job!

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