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How to Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in California

Filing for unemployment can be stressful. What is even more stressful is realizing that your benefits have been denied. The good news is that there is a simple appeals process in California that enables anyone, with a little bit of preparation and research, to secure the benefits they have earned. In this post we provide a general overview of the California unemployment appeal process and eight simple steps you should consider taking if your unemployment benefits have been denied.

Overview of the California Appeals Process

The Employment Development Department (EDD) is one of the largest departments in the State of California. One of the main programs the EDD administers is unemployment insurance, which is handled by the EDD’s Unemployment Insurance Branch. When you apply for unemployment benefits, the EDD will make the initial determination of whether or not you qualify for benefits and, if so, the amount of benefits you qualify for (i.e., how much money you receive per week). The EDD’s initial determination is based on the information you provide as well as information the EDD collects from your former employer. After making its determination, the EDD will then inform you of its decision via mail through a form called the “Notice of Determination.”

If you disagree with the EDD’s determination because you are denied benefits altogether or believe you are entitled to more money, you should appeal the EDD’s ruling to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (CUIAB). The CUIAB is not a part of the EDD. Instead, the CUIAB is an administrative court whose sole function is to handle appeals from the EDD. In the 2020-2021 fiscal year alone the CUIAB handled approximately 180,163 unemployment appeals. We mention this because you should know that you are not alone in disagreeing with the EDD and should take advantage of this free appeal to correct any mistakes the EDD may have made in processing your application.

The CUIAB is composed of administrative law judges (ALJs) working out of CUIAB Field Offices located throughout the state and an “Appeals Board” consisting of five members that review the ALJs decisions. After you file an appeal, an ALJ will be assigned your case. At that point, your local Field Office will send out a “Notice of Hearing” with the time, date, and location of your hearing with the ALJ. It is your job, as the person filing the appeal (also called the “appellant”), to go to that hearing and show the ALJ why the EDD’s decision is wrong.

It is critical to try to “win” before the ALJ because, while you may appeal to the Appeals Board (and then again to Superior Court), the ALJ’s Decision will only be overturned if it is “arbitrary” or “against the weight of the evidence.” These are high standards and board appeals are very difficult to win. Focus on presenting your best case to the ALJ, as that will give you the best chance of securing your unemployment benefits.

8 Easy Steps to an Unemployment Appeal

Step 1: Calendar Your Deadline

When you receive your “Notice of Determination” from the EDD denying your benefits, the deadline to start the appeals process is triggered. You only have 30 days from the mailing date of the Notice of Determination to submit an Appeal Form (see Step Two). The mailing date is listed clearly on the top of the Notice of Determination. You should immediately count 30 days after that date on a calendar and mark that date as your deadline to submit your appeal form. To be safe, try to submit your appeal form one week early to make sure you are not missing your deadline!

Step 2: Determine the Legal Reasons Your Claim Was Denied

After you calendar the deadline to appeal, you should determine the legal reasons your claim was denied. A brief explanation will be listed in the Notice of Determination (usually in the second full paragraph). For example, the Notice of Determination may say: “YOU QUIT YOUR LAST JOB WITH ABC CORPORATION. YOU HAVE NOT SHOWN THAT WAS NECESSARY…[.]” Whatever it is, take note of this reason because it will shape your appellate strategy moving forward.

Step 3: Submit Your Appeal Form to the EDD

There is a copy of the EDD’s standard Appeal Form included with the Notice of Determination you received. You can also download the form online. Fill out the “Appellant Information” requested in Section I and make sure to provide reliable contact information – they will be sending you important documents. When you fill out Section II, the “Appellant Statement,” it is often best to avoid writing too much. At this point you will not have a lot of information regarding the specific reasons why the EDD may have denied your claim and you do not want to write something that you later regret. As such, it may make sense to keep your statement short and relatively vague. A good example may be something along the lines of: “I believe the EDD made a mistake when processing my application and that I was wrongfully denied benefits.” After you have filled out your Appeal Form, mail it back to the EDD at the return address listed on your Notice of Determination and make sure it arrives before the deadline you calendared in Step One. The EDD will submit your appeal to the CUIAB and you’re off to the races!

Step 4: Gather Additional Information

While you wait for the CUIAB to mail you the Notice of Hearing, you have a prime opportunity to start gathering additional information regarding the reasons your claim was denied. At the very least you should request the EDD’s case file, which you have the right to review. If you cannot get a copy sent to you, arrange a visit to your local CUIAB field office to make copies. The EDD’s case file will contain all of the information gathered by the EDD when it made the determination that you did not qualify for benefits – including any witnesses interviewed and documents reviewed. This information will give you an idea of what specific facts you need to challenge at your hearing (i.e., what do you disagree with). It is also wise to request your personnel file from your previous employer, along with any other documents you feel are relevant to your claims. This can be done by sending a letter to your employer’s HR representative or consulting an attorney.

Step 5: Take Notice of Your Hearing

As you are gathering additional information, the CUIAB will send you a “Notice of Hearing.” This is a critical document for two reasons. First, it contains the time, date, and place of the hearing. You need to mark that time and date on your calendar and make sure that you can attend. If you cannot attend, try to reschedule your other obligations before attempting to reschedule the hearing. If you have a really good reason that you cannot attend, call the CUIAB immediately to see if rescheduling is possible. Second, the Notice will also contain a statement of the legal issue(s) that will be considered at the hearing. Take note of these legal issues as they are what you will address in preparing for your hearing.

Step 6: Prepare for the Hearing

Preparing for the hearing is the most critical step in a successful appeal. You should not expect to appear on the day of your hearing and “wing it” successfully, so start preparing as soon as possible.

If you followed the steps listed above, you should already have each of the following:

  1. The EDD’s stated reason for denying your claims (from the Notice of Determination).

  2. The EDD’s case file which shows the information the EDD gathered in making its initial decision.

  3. Your personnel file.

If you need additional information or witnesses, you should ask the CUIAB to issue subpoenas. Next, do some legal research. You will have the list of issues the ALJ is prepared to discuss at your hearing, and it’s important that you understand how to present evidence so the ALJ decides those issues in your favor. Your best, free resource for legal research is your local public law library. At the end of the day, your goal is to understand why your claim was denied and what you need to show at the hearing to prove that the EDD was legally incorrect in their denial.

Step 7: Write an "IRAC" for Each Issue

Now that you have all the information you need and know how the law applies to the issues, you need a way to present that information to the ALJ. In law school, most lawyers are taught some form of the “IRAC” framework for analyzing legal issues. IRAC is an acronym that stands for: Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. It is a logical and easy way to organize your thoughts and prepare to present your case. For each of the issues listed in your Notice of Hearing, you should write out an IRAC so you have your thoughts organized going into your hearing. This will enable you to know what to say to the ALJ.

For example:

  1. Issue – Did the appellant quit without good cause?

  2. Rule – Unemployment only provides benefits to workers who were separated through no fault of their own. So, if I quit, I have to show that I quit for “good cause.”

  3. Analysis – Based on the information in the EDD’s case file, the investigator was told by my former employer that I did not have good cause for quitting. This is not true. If you review my personnel file, you will see that I complained of unsafe working conditions and abusive superiors two weeks prior to quitting.

  4. Conclusion – Unsafe working conditions and abusive superiors constituted good cause for me to quit. As such, I had good cause to quit.

Step 8: Attend the Hearing

At this point all of the hard work is out of the way. You have all the evidence you need, you understand the law, and you have a way to explain each issue to the ALJ (the IRAC format). Now it’s time to make that preparation pay off.

Here are some tips for the day of:

  1. Show up to your hearing (either physically, or telephonically) at least 10 minutes early. Do not be late and, if attending telephonically, try to use a landline.

  2. When you show up, have all the evidence you collected, your notes regarding the law, and your IRAC for each issue organized and ready to go.

  3. The ALJ will likely start off the hearing with introductions and then “swearing in” anyone who will testify. Just like regular court, all testimony will be under oath. As such, it is of the utmost importance that you be 100% truthful.

  4. Only speak when asked to by the ALJ and do not interrupt anyone, no matter how tempting it may be. You may ask for an opportunity to correct or add to someone else’s comments, but do so respectfully.

  5. When responding to the ALJ’s questions, keep in mind that they are aimed to illicit responses relevant to the issues. Said differently, stay on topic! If you prepared to present evidence regarding the real reasons you quit, don’t deviate and talk about something else. If you prepared to show that you were terminated for a “made up” reason, stick to that story and tie your answers into your preparation.

  6. If the questions the ALJ asks seem to differ from the topics you prepared for, ask for clarification on the question or ask the ALJ to rephrase. Don’t answer until you understand the question and how it applies to your case. That said, at the end of the day it is very important that you introduce all evidence that you feel applies to the issues. Even if you challenge the ALJ’s decision, you will not have another opportunity to present new evidence.

  7. If a crucial piece of evidence is missing or a witness that you need did not attend, ask for a continuance. Explain the significance of the witness and/or evidence. That way, even if the ALJ denies your request, you will have this request on record.

  8. Be respectful, be honest, and stick to what you prepared – that is the best formula for success.

We hope that this article helps you with your appeal. If you have any questions regarding any of the topics covered, we encourage you to go to your local public law library to do additional research. Alternatively, you can call Osprey Law to discuss your options.


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