Unemployment hearings are used when a former employee or employer asks to appeal a decision to grant or deny unemployment insurance payments.
What Happens at Unemployment Hearings in Arizona?
In Arizona, unemployment hearings are held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who works for the Department of Economic Security (DES). Both sides are invited to testify at the hearing, call witnesses, present evidence, make objections, and make a closing statement. The ALJ can ask questions at any time during the hearing.
ALJs will mail or email written decisions after the hearing. These decisions can be appealed by filing a request for an appeal within 30 days.
How Employers Can Prepare for Unemployment Hearings
An unemployment hearing is a legal process, although it’s not quite as intimidating as a courtroom. There are official and unofficial rules to follow both parties are expected to understand. This is where an experienced Arizona unemployment attorney can be very helpful to an employer defending his or her actions.
Here are 10 common mistakes I’ve seen at unemployment insurance hearings in Arizona that employers should be aware of.
- Opposing legitimate claims. If an employee was let go for reasons other than misconduct and did not voluntarily quit, it may be best for the employer to not oppose the unemployment benefit.
- Not responding to DES notices on time. The timeframes between requesting a hearing and appealing DES decisions are very short. Look for notices in the mail and in your email.
- Assuming that benefits will be denied because an employee was fired. Employees who are fired because they did not have the desired job skills can often collect unemployment. An employee can argue that the firing itself was unwarranted and the ALJ might agree.
- Not being prepared for the hearing. This is inexcusable, yet I see it occur regularly: one party shows up unprepared, without the documents needed to prove their case or doesn’t bring important witnesses.
- Not understanding that the burden of proof is on the employer. This is why it’s important to understand how to present evidence and challenge evidence from the other side.
- Failing to anticipate issues that come up at the hearing. An experienced Arizona employment attorney can foresee a lot of potential complications that catch employers off-guard. They are also familiar with ALJs and their particular concerns and opinions.
- Getting bogged down in unimportant details. Nothing annoys an ALJ more than rambling. Decisions are often close calls. It’s counterproductive to antagonize and test an ALJ’s patience! Just stick to the important facts.
- Failing to answer an employee’s claim for being fired without cause. Technically, an employer does not have to document the reason for firing an employee or write up employees. But it is a good practice to document warnings about poor performance in the event an employee will be terminated from work.
- Failing to have share evidence. Both sides are given an equal chance to argue their case at an unemployment hearing. Therefore, they must share documents they intend to use as evidence with one another. ALJs often refuse to allow “new” or “surprise” evidence to be presented.
- Failing to recognize that the final event that led to firing is the most important one to an ALJ. This will be one of the first questions an ALJ asks an employer. It’s a critical question; answer it incorrectly and you may lose the case on this single answer!
- Failing to have legal representation. Employees sometimes appear with an attorney. At the very least, employers should consult with an experienced unemployment attorney before an unemployment hearing to get a better idea about how to be prepared.
If you are facing an unemployment hearing, please contact our office for a consultation as soon as you receive a notice from DES.