My office represents workers seeking unemployment benefits from employers who, whether out of greed, spite or arrogance, fight them in their ability to access benefits while they pursue their next job. These are their stories (modified to protect privacy, of course.)
TT was a highly respected person in his field until a severe long-term side effect of an improperly prescribed medicine took away some, but certainly not all, of his brain functions. TT could still sell “widgets” like a madman, but could not handle a computer, a cash register, tasks involving logistics or mathematics or geometry. TT worked for years in a leading institution in his field but for an abusive, nasty boss who demeaned him repeatedly for his disabilities in front of co-workers. After one particularly abusive day at annual celebration, where TT was asked not to do sales but to arrange logistics outside of his skill set as a disabled worker and suffered yet additional humiliation by his boss abusing him when the task wasn’t done to satisfaction, TT left the institution to avoid a scene. TT was fired, requested unemployment benefits and was denied benefits due to “gross misconduct” after nearly 25 years of association with the institution. We fought the hearing hard, but a hostile hearing examiner slammed the gates on benefits for my worker after a long, contested hearing.
Welcome to my world where I am honored, proud and invigorated to fight hard for workers in difficult times.
OO was an immigrant from a Middle Eastern country, with good child care skills but not too much in English fluency or familiarity with American culture. After several years as a successful day care worker for a mega-child care conglomerate’s local office, management fired OO after she, in a spirit of play, lifted a favorite child by his feet over an empty trash can to make him laugh. Fortunately we were able to get a hearing examiner in that case to enter a finding of mere petty misconduct, allowing for benefits after a sanction of 5-10 weeks penalty. OO and her husband RO brought their children into my office – not always the most welcome of events in a small office but in this case it was a pure delight to see a smiling boy and girl in my office with their loving parents.
YY was a young foreman on a construction site in Baltimore. He had once left his employer to join the union electrician’s pool, but post-Bush economics left the union pool bereft of work, so he applied to join back with his old job, and they took him, but with an asterisk next to his name. On a job site, YY was open and outspoken to the job’s client about how a proposed electrical layout would fail and cause additional problems and hazards. For his outspokenness, YY got fired by management. At the contested benefits hearing, management basically admitted that it was resentful of YY’s prior attempt to work through the union, but our examiner found misconduct anyway – but only petty misconduct, so my client eventually got to receive some benefits after a modest penalty period.
XX was a student nurse who was given two different sets of instructions on whether she could administer medicine. She followed the more liberal instructions and got fired. At her initial hearing she was not found to have engaged in misconduct but the job appealed. At the next hearing level, XX missed her hearing due to a medical emergency involving prescribed anti-psychotic medicine that she needed in order to function, appealed but only called the Board, rather than wrote them, about her medical emergency. The Board of Appeals turned down her appeal. My office is now assisting her pro bono in her next appeal to Circuit Court as of the date of this post.
Sometimes you win, and that’s of course the best news that a client can hear (and that an attorney can tell!) We got benefits for a worker who quit after management insisted that he participate in a fraudulent billing scheme, pretending to be an “accountant” when he had no such accounting training, credentials or work product. We got benefits for a worker whose boss had claimed he had called the worker and offered work, but no such calls registered on the worker’s cell phone records. We fought hard for a public employee and union member who failed a drug test, but had been taking prescription Marinol lawfully and had not been given a legally required opportunity to re-test his urine – we were overjoyed to win full benefits for the worker on that one.
The philosophy of my office is one of PRIDE. I am PROUD to fight for unemployed workers. I am PROUD to take on a recalcitrant employer, a skeptical hearing examiner, an indifferent Assistant Attorney General, even a Circuit Court judge, in a professional but zealous manner. Most lawyers don’t even know how unemployment insurance law, and many who do either represent employers or simply elect not to represent workers. I love what I do and would do it all day long gladly.
Pride and the knowledge that good work can help real people – those facts motivate me to keep fighting. I love what I do, and feel privileged to have the chance to do it in a country that is decent enough to provide unemployment benefits to workers while they diligently pursue their next job.