Unemployment compensation is a benefit available to most workers when they separate from their jobs due to circumstances beyond their control. Claiming it can be a process, however, and it's not without its challenges.
You must have enough earned income during prescribed time periods to qualify, and some workers can fall through the cracks and be denied even when they do technically qualify. States have appeal systems in place to give them recourse.
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The Appeal Process
The process for appealing a denied claim can vary slightly from state to state, but the rules are generally similar. Both employees and employers have a right to appeal a worker's approval or denial of benefits.
Employers are sometimes likely to do so because they pay taxes into the unemployment insurance program and their rates can hike when a lot of their employees file claims. It's possible that you could be approved for benefits, only to find out later than your employer is appealing the unemployment decision.
You can appeal a denial of benefits or respond to your employer's appeal. The notice you'll receive explaining the problem should include instructions as to what to do if you want to respond. A hearing should then be scheduled. Both you and your employer are entitled to speak and present your cases at the hearing, including offering evidence that supports your positions.
If Your Appeal Is Appealed
Unfortunately, this is not always a one-and-done process. You might win your appeal only to receive notice that your employer is again appealing the decision so your successful unemployment appeal can be reversed. You usually have the right to do the same if your appeal is denied.
The subsequent hearing might take place before a different judge or panel. For example, a second appeal goes to the Board of Review in New Jersey. This state is particularly generous about the appeals process. You can reach out a third time to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court if the second review doesn't go your way.
The Unemployment Appeal Hearing Timeline
It can take some significant time until a final verdict is reached, much less until you receive any back pay you're owed. Both parties can have as many as 30 days to respond to the first decision and appeal it, although it's only 15 days in Pennsylvania and extensions can be granted for certain circumstances such as illness.
You should receive written notice regarding the outcome of your appeal within a week or so after the initial hearing. New Jersey gives you and your employer another 20 days after the postmark date to appeal a second time, and then it can take an additional two months or so for the Board of Review to arrive at a decision in this state. You can ask the board to expedite the process, however, if you're experiencing severe hardship.
Collecting Back Pay
Don't sit idle while you're waiting for all this to play out. Keep claiming your weekly benefits so you eventually receive back pay if you win the appeal. You're entitled to receive the benefits that accrued while the appeals process was ongoing – as well as future benefits – as long as you keep your initial claim alive. You should receive a lump sum payment within a few weeks after a final decision is rendered.
Keep in mind, however, that many states impose a one-week waiting period before benefits can start, and this can apply even after an appeal. In a best-case scenario, you just won't receive back pay for that first week if you were initially approved but your employer then appealed. Otherwise, your first payment would likely be delayed for a week after your appeal verdict.
Special Circumstances During COVID-19
There's the unemployment process, and then there's the unemployment process during the coronavirus pandemic. A few rules have been temporarily tweaked and changed.
Qualifying requirements have been relaxed considerably under federal law through the end of 2020. Thanks to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, gig workers and self-employed individuals are now eligible for benefits, as well as those who only worked a short period of time before being laid off. State unemployment benefits and the PUA program are two separate programs in some states, so you might be able to apply under the PUA while your state's appeal process evolves.
The majority of states have also waived their waiting periods, and some have gone so far as to waive higher unemployment tax rates for employers when numerous employees apply for benefits due to the pandemic. They might, therefore, be less likely to file appeals during this time.