The purpose of this article is to outline how to apply for Pennsylvania unemployment benefits, how the Department of Labor decides an applicant’s eligibility, and what to do if a decision needs to be appealed.
Applying for Unemployment Benefits
You can apply for unemployment benefits by mail, phone, or online. The easiest way to apply for benefits is by Filing an Inital Claim on the Pennsylvania Department of Labor website. You’ll be asked a few questions about your work history and the reason your employment relationship ended. Be sure to answer each question truthfully. You do not want to indicate that you are applying for benefits due to a lack of work if you quit or were terminated for a rule violation.
Department of Labor Investigation
After receiving your initial application, you may be contacted by the UC Service Center for a phone interview or asked to complete a questionnaire if the Department of Labor needs more information in order to process your claim. The UC Service Center will also contact the employer regarding the reason the employment relationship ended and confirm information about the Claimant’s rate of pay and employment dates.
Notice of Determination
After the Department of Labor conducts an investigation, a Notice of Determination will be issued. There are two separate determinations that will be issued. The first will be a financial determination, which will inform you whether you’ve earned sufficient wages for the applicable time period to qualify for unemployment benefits.
The second determination will determine whether you or eligible for UC benefits or if any section of the PA Unemployment Compensation Law disqualifies you from receiving benefits. The two most common disqualifying sections of the law are if you voluntarily quit your employment or you were terminated due to misconduct.
The employer does not determine whether to grant unemployment benefits or not. Rather, the decision is made by the Department of Labor. In the event that benefits are awarded, the employer has the right to appeal the decision. If benefits are denied, the Claimant has the right to appeal the decision.
Appealing a Notice of Determination
If you were not awarded benefits, you have the right to appeal the Notice of Determination denying benefits. Please be advised that there are only 15 days to appeal the decision. The last day to appeal the Determination will be listed in the top-right corner of the Notice of Determination, as well as at the bottom of the Determination. Once an appeal is filed, the matter will be scheduled for a referee hearing where live testimony and evidence would be gathered from both the employer and the employee. It can take approximately 4-8 weeks before your referee hearing can be scheduled depending on the referee office’s current case load.
Referee Hearing Process
The referee hearing is an administrative hearing where testimony is taken under oath and recorded. The referee’s role is to obtain testimony and evidence on the issues affecting the employee’s claim for unemployment benefits. You have the right to be represented by an attorney during the referee hearing. You also have the right to subpoena witnesses and produce documents to support your claim.
At the beginning of the hearing, the referee will inform the parties about the hearing’s procedures and will review the documents in the record. The parties have an opportunity to object to the documents submitted that are part of the claim record.
The party who has the burden of proof on the issue testifies first. If the issue deals with willful misconduct, the employer will testify first. If the issue deals with the employee voluntarily leaving, the employee will testify first. After each party testifies, the opposing party can then cross-examine the testifying party. At the conclusion of the testimony, a closing argument can be made. The referee will usually issue a decision within 7-10 days from the date of the hearing.
Appealing the Referee’s Decision
There are two opportunities to appeal the referee’s decision. The first appeal is made to the UC Board of Review. The Board of Review will receive a transcript of the hearing and will receive all the documents that were part of the claim record. The Board of Review will determine whether the referee’s findings and fact and conclusions of law are supported by the evidence submitted.
An appeal to the Board of Review can be done in letter format. An attorney can file the appeal on your behalf and can also request the Board’s permission to submit a brief to outline legal arguments affecting the case. There are only 15 days from the date of the referee’s decision to appeal to the Board of Review. The Board of Review takes approximately 75 days to issue a decision.
If the appeal is still denied following the Board of Review’s decision, a final appeal to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court is permitted. Appeals to the Commonwealth Court are decided on briefs submitted. An appeal to the Commonwealth Court must be submitted within 30 days of the Board of Review’s decision.
Retaining an Unemployment Compensation Attorney
If you have any unemployment compensation questions or seeking legal assistance with an appeal, please contact me by calling (484) 362-9286. Our law firm represents clients in unemployment cases. Our law firm is located in Bethlehem, PA, and we are happy to help clients throughout the Eastern Pennsylvania area.