Back to Basics: Unemployment Claims, Part 2

This month’s Back to Basics article focuses on the hearing process to contest worker unemployment claims. School officials must be mindful of the applicable timelines and procedures to contest claims.

Denying & Contesting Claims

Unemployment compensation is paid to workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own. If a worker becomes unemployed because of his or her own actions, such as by quitting or being fired for misconduct, he or she should be disqualified from receiving benefits. Common reasons to disqualify claimants from benefits include:

  • Voluntary Leaving – the claimant quit a job without good cause attributable to the employer.
  • Misconduct – the claimant’s conduct showed an intentional disregard for the employer’s interests or was grossly negligent
  • Refusal of Work – the claimant failed, without good cause, to accept an offer of suitable work.

Appeals & Unemployment Hearings

As we detailed in last month’s article, a decision by the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) about a claimant’s entitlement to benefits is called a “determi­nation.” If a claimant or employer disagrees with the UIA’s determination, the party may request the UIA to review the claim and issue a “redetermination.” A request for a redetermination must be made in writing and received by the UIA within 30 days after the mailing of the determination. The UIA must timely review challenges to its determination and must either (1) issue a redetermination or (2) transfer the matter to an administrative law judge (ALJ) for hearing. If dissatisfied with the redetermination, a party may appeal, first to an ALJ, and subsequently to the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission, then the circuit court.

If an ALJ hears an unemployment appeal, the ALJ will consider the testimony and evidence presented to determine if a preponderance of admissible evidence satisfies a party’s burden of proof for a particular claim or defense. The burden of proof can rest with either party, as shown in the examples below.

  • Voluntary Leaving – the claimant has the burden to prove that either the leaving: (1) was voluntary but with good cause attributable to the employer, or (2) was involuntary (e.g., due to personal health reasons).
  • Misconduct – the employer has the burden to prove that: (1) the claimant engaged in mis­conduct, and (2) the misconduct was connected to the employee’s work.
  • Refusal of Work – the employer has the burden to prove that: (1) an offer of work was made to the claimant, (2) the work offered was suitable, (3) the offer was for a job that really existed, (4) the offer was specific, and (5) the claimant refused the offer.

After a hearing, the ALJ issues a written decision with findings of fact and conclusions of law.

An unemployment hearing operates within the general requirements of the rules of evidence, much like a court. Importantly, hearings last only one hour, so parties must efficiently present their case through witnesses and evidence. Witnesses should have personal, first-hand knowledge of the relevant facts. Documents introduced as evidence should support witness testimony.

School officials may wish to hire an attorney to represent their school at the hearing or to guide school officials with their own hearing preparation. Attorneys can assist with strategy, witness preparation, exhibit organization, and admission of documentary evidence. Because the hearing is limited to one hour, preparation is vital to present a strong, yet efficient argument. The UIA has created a helpful Employer Handbook that summarizes the applicable timelines and procedures employers must follow during this process. It is available at: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/‌uia/Employer_Handbook1-14_455893_7.pdf.

School officials should monitor their mail and email for unemployment claims and follow the applicable timelines and procedures to appropriately contest improper claims.