Former employees will frequently claim unemployment benefits based on allegations of retaliation, hostile work environment, and/or constructive termination, even if the employee resigns from a position voluntarily without good cause and is not entitled to such benefits. When this occurs, employers have the option to contest the employee’s claim for unemployment benefits by filing an appeal before the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (the “Board”) by an administrative law judge. In our experience, these judges are typically sympathetic to employees, so an employer must present a compelling case with strong supporting evidence to have any hope of prevailing. Here are four tips we recommend employers follow to maximize their chances of success at the hearing:
1. Submit Supporting Documents Before the Appeal Hearing
When an employer files an appeal form, the employer will also submit a written “Appellant Statement” to support its position and attach supporting documentation. The Board will then serve each party a Notice of Hearing, which will contain the date and time of the appeal hearing and a deadline for each party to submit additional documentation. This deadline could be as soon as one week after delivery of the Notice of Hearing, so employers should be diligent to timely submit all supporting documents. In choosing proper documentation to submit, employers should analyze the potential issues that may arise at the appeal hearing.
For example, if the employee claims workplace harassment as the reason for leaving the job, the employer should present documentation of any HR investigation of the employee’s complaint, and any corrective action taken to address the issue. In addition, the employer should produce any HR documentation showing that the employee left the position voluntarily and without good cause. This could be evidenced by offboarding documents, termination of employment letters, or correspondences related to the employee’s departure.
2. HR Manager Should Appear and Testify
It is essential that the employer have a representative with personal knowledge of the circumstances to testify. The judge will swear in both the employee and the employer representative at the beginning of the hearing. Given the informal nature of administrative law proceedings, the judge will likely interrupt and ask each party questions during the testimony. If the employer does not have someone with knowledge present, preferably the HR manager, the employer will not be able to offer any live testimony to rebut the employee’s claims.
3. Anticipate and Rebut the Employee’s Arguments
The employee will provide testimony and evidence to support the claim that there was good cause for the employee to leave the job. This evidence is often an accusation of some wrong inflicted on the employee in the workplace that allegedly forced the employee to quit. Even if the employee’s complaints and supporting evidence are weak, the judge will likely take them at face value. The judge will expect the employer to have taken appropriate actions in response to any issues raised by the employee. The employer must be prepared to present testimony and evidence in opposition to the employee’s claims. Ideally, this evidence will show that the employee’s issue was taken seriously and addressed in a reasonable manner such that the employee could reasonably continue to work in the position.
4. Prepare an Effective Closing Argument
The appeal hearing will be short, so it is important that the employer focus its testimony and arguments on the most important facts in its favor. After hearing the testimony, the judge will allow the parties to make brief closing arguments. An effective closing argument should efficiently summarize a list of three to five of the most important points for the judge to consider in making the decision. If the closing argument is too long or distracts from the employer’s critical points, the judge will lose interest and may fail to understand the intended closing argument. The closing argument should also directly address the specific issues identified by the judge in the Notice of Hearing.
Employers frequently retain attorneys to assist them in this appeal process. If the appeal is successful, the employer’s unemployment insurance reserve account will not be depleted, and the employer will save significant money on future unemployment insurance taxes. If your business needs assistance with unemployment claims, you can contact us for more information by e-mailing us at email@example.com.
This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between MNK Law and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material.