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Can an employer contest unemployment benefits?

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In a Nutshell

Employers can appeal an unemployment office’s decision to approve an applicant for unemployment insurance benefits. But, they need to have grounds to do so. In this article, we’ll explain how long an employer has to contest an unemployment claim and the application procedure that’s used in most states to determine benefit eligibility. We’ll also explore how you can appeal a decision if your application for benefits is denied.

Written by the Upsolve TeamLegally reviewed by Attorney Andrea Wimmer
Updated July 30, 2021

When you file a claim for unemployment benefits, your former employer has the right to object to your application. In this article, we’ll explain how long an employer has to contest an unemployment claim and the application procedure that’s used in most states to determine benefit eligibility. We’ll also explore how you can appeal a decision if your application for benefits is denied. Check the website of the unemployment agency in your state for more information.  

Overview of the Unemployment Application Process

Unemployment insurance programs are funded by taxes from the state and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA). The unemployment system in the United States is a joint state-federal program overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Each state administers a separate unemployment insurance program, but all states follow federal guidelines established by Congress. Most states have an administrative agency that’s dedicated solely to carrying out the state’s unemployment insurance program. States have broad flexibility to determine how their unemployment benefits program operates. 

Applying for Unemployment Benefits

To receive unemployment compensation, you’ll first need to submit an application to the agency that oversees the unemployment benefits program in your state. In California, it’s the state’s Economic Development Department. In Florida, it is the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. In Arizona, it’s the Department of Economic Security. You can do an online search to see which agency to contact in your state.

In most states, claimants apply for unemployment benefits online, but you can also apply at the unemployment office nearest you. To be eligible for benefits, you’ll need to meet state law work and wage requirements and be unemployed through no fault of your own. In most states, this means that you stopped working at your last job because of a layoff or lack of available work. You must also meet your state’s requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established timeframe known as a base period.

Whether you go in person or apply online, make sure that you are prepared to provide specific personal information, such as your Social Security number, when completing your application for unemployment benefits. You’ll also need to provide information about your job history and the reason for your unemployment. If you are asked about any forms of compensation - like vacation or severance pay that you have recently received - provide the amounts of these earnings, typically before deductions, and the dates of all payments. 

You might need to provide details about vacation, holiday, unused sick, or severance pay. If you are collecting a pension other than Social Security, you will usually need to provide the beginning date of the pension and the monthly benefit amount. If you were released by the military in the last two years, make sure that you have a copy of your DD Form 214.

As part of your application, the unemployment agency will review your wages for the relevant base period. For example, California and Ohio use the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to the beginning date of the claim as the base period. So, if you filed your claim in August of 2021, the base period would be from April 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021. 

Your work history and wages will be verified with input from your former employers. During this process, the state may determine that it needs more information before determining whether to grant the claim. Employers typically determine whether they have any grounds to contest a claim at this time. 

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Employers May Contest Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits

Employers can appeal an unemployment office’s decision to approve an applicant for unemployment insurance benefits. But, they need to have grounds to do so. Employers may contest an applicant’s eligibility if the worker quit their job voluntarily or willingly reduced their hours. Also, employers may object to eligibility if the worker falsely stated that he or she worked for the employer at a certain location, for a certain time, etc.

An employer can also contest an application for unemployment insurance if the worker was fired for good cause. Examples of actions that justify cause for termination include: 

  • The worker violated company rules and policies. 

  • The worker exhibited behavior not normal for the workplace (e.g., fighting, sleeping, or getting drunk).

  • The worker was excessively absent or late to work.

If a worker was fired for misconduct or voluntarily quit their job without good cause, they can be disqualified from receiving benefits. This disqualification will last until the worker has found new employment and is then unemployed through no fault of their own.

Employers may not contest eligibility if they laid the worker off without good cause or reduced the employee’s number of working hours. Employees terminated through no fault of their own are eligible to collect unemployment benefits. 

Note that in some situations, if you leave your job voluntarily you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits, but you must have a strong reason. Here are some examples:

  • There was a constructive dismissal. This is when an employee resigns as a result of the employer creating a hostile work environment.

  • There were unsafe working conditions. 

  • You experienced a hostile workplace.

  • The employer violated a law that protects people from harassment due to disability, gender, race, religion, etc. For example, if an employer terminated an employee based on their disability, this would be considered wrongful termination.

The timeline to contest an unemployment claim typically varies by state. For example, in Texas, the employer has 14 days to appeal a decision, and in Pennsylvania, the employer has 15 days. 

Appealing an Unemployment Decision

After you complete the application process, you will receive a claim notice approving or denying your eligibility for benefits. If your unemployment claim is denied, this letter will explain why and what your appeal rights are. Each state has separate rules regarding the appeals process. You may want to consult an attorney to ensure that your appeal is correctly filed and done so in a timely manner.

You should file your appeal as soon as possible, even if you don’t have an attorney. If you file your appeal late, it will likely be denied. If your appeal is accepted, a hearing will be scheduled, and you’ll receive a notice with the time and date of the appeal hearing. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will hear the appeal. The hearing may occur over the phone, by video conference call, or in person, depending on your state. 

The claimant - the person who filed the appeal - has the burden of proof at this hearing. You will be allowed to tell your side of the story to the judge. Remember, this will likely be your last chance to give any compelling reasons that your claim should be approved. Prepare carefully by collecting and organizing any documentation that supports your case. 

The judge or the person representing your former employer may question you about any issues that are relevant to the claim. You will also have an opportunity to ask your former employer any questions that may help you meet your burden of proof. After the appeal hearing, you should receive a decision in two to four weeks. If you don’t hear anything after a month, you can call the unemployment office to check on the status of your appeal.

If your claim for benefits is denied and this causes financial problems that are potentially overwhelming, you may want to consider options for obtaining debt relief. Bankruptcy is one such option. Most bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations. Upsolve also offers a free web app that can help you file a straightforward Chapter 7 case at no cost.

Let’s Summarize...

While some details of applying and being approved for unemployment benefits vary by state, the overall process of applying for benefits is similar throughout the country. Employers have a limited amount of time to contest unemployment claims, and they may only contest these benefits if you left work voluntarily. If an employer contests your unemployment claim and eligibility for benefits, you have the right to file an appeal. This appeal must be filed by a specific deadline based on the rules for your state.

Written By:

The Upsolve Team

Upsolve is fortunate to have a remarkable team of bankruptcy attorneys, as well as finance and consumer rights professionals, as contributing writers to help us keep our content up to date, informative, and helpful to everyone.

Attorney Andrea Wimmer


Andrea practiced exclusively as a bankruptcy attorney in consumer Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team as Managing Editor. While in private practice, Andrea handled... read more about Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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