Last week the decision was made. My client won her case. It was a long road; she has been without unemployment assistance since April. Read about the journey here and here.

Now that part is over, it’s time to talk about what will give you an advantage when fighting an unemployment claim if discharged for “just cause”.

In the state this case was fought, it defines “just cause” as a quit or discharge as whether the action taken was what an ordinary person would do under similar circumstances.

Some examples of “just cause” include:

  • Violated established company rules.
  • Neglected the responsibilities of the job.
  • Disregarded the employer’s interests.
  • Performed the work carelessly

My client was fired for one of these actions. The problem is she did not do what they said she did.

Below, find some of the lessons learned going through her six month appeal process.

  1. The fight will be a long one. Resign yourself to a long drawn out fight. There will be several appeals to initiate and follow up on. Expect each appeal to take anywhere from 20-30 days. I think we went through three appeals before reaching the final hearing stage.
  2. Make sure you meet every deadline for responding to the Unemployment Compensation Commission. If you miss a deadline, you may lose the right to fight for your claim.
  3. Stay on issue. When someone leaves an organization, there are often other “issues” regarding management fairness or discrimination. This is not the time to address them. Keep focused on events surrounding the termination.
  4. Be clear about the facts. Each time you respond to an appeal, relay the same facts. It is important to be consistent in what you say and how you say it. Be respectful and level headed about how you tell the story. If there is emotion showing in your response, set it aside and revisit the next day or ask someone else to help you edit it.
  5. Know what to ask for from the company. If the company says they have evidence about your termination- ask for it to be reviewed by the Unemployment Compensation Commission.
  6. Know if your company is contesting or a third party advocate is managing the claim process. If U. C. Express or Talx is involved as a third party, they will deny every appeal with a rubber stamp and ignore any requests you have for information to help resolve the case until the hearing. Their hands have been slapped by this bad behavior, if you did not read it with the link above here it is. In our case, U.C. Express was the company’s representative and if they had researched the appeal, it would have been obvious the company was negligent.
  7. Don’t expect the Unemployment Compensation Commission to take you seriously until the final phone or in-person hearing. Despite doing all the above, the likelihood that someone will review your claim and reverse the decision during the written appeal process is not likely to happen. No one wants to reverse a “just cause” decision at the lower level, the law judge has the power to make the change.
  8. Keep excellent records. Make copies of all your correspondence.  At every step of the way, there were missteps by the Unemployment Compensation Commission – or so we thought. Every time we asked for the company to provide the direct proof they said they had. Every written appeal was denied and we could not figure out why no one was looking at the evidence. We later found out the company is not obligated to provide it until the final hearing. The fact that we asked for it every time (see #4 and #5) and the company failed to prove their case in the final hearing only lends credibility your approach.
  9. Get expert help with the hearing. Engage an employment attorney, someone from the Legal Aid Society or a Human Resources professional to assist you in the proceedings. This is not the time to have your angry spouse or other non-trained friend represent you.
  10. Who you call, the evidence requested and the questions that are asked are important. At a hearing, you can subpoena a few witnesses. The decision of who to call and who not to call is important. If you call someone, the company has an equal right to cross examine the witness. One of the strategic moves in our case was to call the lead investigator as our witness which disallowed him to participate as a company representative in the proceedings. This is also the time to subpoena any documents or video evidence of the event.
  11. Less is more. When preparing my client for her testimony, I drilled in the premise “less is more”. Stick to the facts. Do not wander and fill in the empty spaces with words. Anything you say, the company representative will question aggressively. Saying “less is more” applies to #9 too – if you are not the one talking and cross examining the witnesses it decreases the other side’s ability to twist what you say.

The more prepared you are for the appeal process; you will increase your chances of success. It requires you have a case that is defensible – no one wave the magic wand for someone who lacks facts.

If you have been through an appeal process and something worked for you, share it with your comment below.