If you have lost your job through no fault of your own, especially in the current difficult economy, unemployment benefits can be the difference between eviction or foreclosure and keeping your owned or rented home. In the U.S., unemployment benefits are significantly less generous than in most of our industrialized allied countries and trading partners; we Americans generally receive lower benefits and for a shorter period than do most Europeans, for example. Yet our modest, limited benefits can be crucial to surviving in a terrible economy.
Unemployment hearings in Maryland occur in three stages:
the telephone or “claims specialist” stage
the Lower Appeals or “Hearing Examiner” stage, and
the Board of Appeals in some cases.
Generally, the claims specialist conducts a mere telephone interview with the worker or “claimant” and with the employer, and renders a preliminary decision as to eligibility. If either party disagrees with the decision, either may file for an appeal of the decision to a hearing examiner for a “de novo” (all new, “do-over”) hearing before the hearing examiner in an unemployment office location or other State office complex. That Lower Appeals hearing is recorded live, usually conducted in a small room and is generally limited to 45 minutes in length though this is not an absolute limit.
A dissatisfied party may appeal a Lower Appeals hearing to the UI Board of Appeals, which has jurisdiction to rubber-stamp the prior decision, to issue an affirming opinion and ruling, to reverse the prior decision (completely or partially), to send the case back to the Hearing Examiner for new or more testimony or, in rare cases, to hold its own new hearing. There is NO automatic right to present new evidence to the Board of Appeals.
Those who are dissatisfied with a final decision of the Board of Appeals may appeal to the Circuit Court for a judicial appeal that is based the total record of the case, i.e. NOT a “do-over from the top” but a review to determine legal errors and very gross factual errors only. Accordingly, it’s important to take the Lower Appeals hearing seriously; it’s worth it in most cases to hire an attorney or at least to consult with one and it is often the last opportunity to present the truth.
The two main issues in unemployment cases are misconduct (of varying degrees) and voluntary quit for cause. In a misconduct case, the employer has the burden of proof of showing conduct by the worker that either violates a fairly communicated workplace rule or otherwise manifested gross disregard for the interests of the employer. Misconduct grades run from (simple/petty) misconduct which involves a penalty of benefit “weeks”, to gross misconduct and aggravated misconduct which bar all access to UI benefits until the worker is rehired and earns through wages/salary an amount of compensation equal to a large factor of the weekly benefit pay-out. As of March 1, 2011, the penalty for simple misconduct increased from 5-10 weeks of disqualification to 10-15 weeks. The penalty for gross misconduct remains an absolutely bar until the worker finds new work and earns through work an amount equal to 25 times his weekly unemployment benefit amount, increased from 20 times; for many workers receiving the current (2018) maximum of $430.00/week, this means a disqualification until the worker has earned $10,750.00 in gross Maryland wages ($430 x 25 weeks).
Voluntary quit for a serious justified cause related to the job itself – such as EXTREMELY abusive treatment by management, unethical or illegal demands, or the like – allows the worker to keep unemployment benefits, whereas voluntary quit for the lesser “valid circumstances” related to the job or to the worker’s personal circumstances may result in a penalty of benefit weeks. Voluntary quit for insufficient cause bars benefits entirely until a worker is rehired and earns back into the system 15 times the weekly benefit amount otherwise payable. Sometimes, it’s a close call whether a worker quit or was terminated.
Most Maryland attorneys do not do unemployment hearings; there’s a reason why you see advertisements for car accident lawyers and medical malpractice lawyers and DWI/DUI lawyers, but almost none for unemployment insurance litigators. One might think that in this economy, the demand for unemployment attorneys would be very high – and demand is so high that at least one Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service in Maryland has been soliciting lawyers to take more of these cases. Legal fees in unemployment cases are capped by state regulation, although the State of Maryland has issued some new (1/2011) regulations to make it easier for attorneys to assist workers. Most Maryland attorneys shy away from these cases for those reasons. Fortunately, some lawyers do practice in this area in Maryland.
BOTTOM LINE: If you have lost your job, you need to file for unemployment benefits as quickly as possible. Similarly, if the telephone hearing has gone against you as a claimant worker, you need to appeal as soon as possible. Delay can damage or destroy your case. You should contact an attorney as soon as possible to obtain legal advice.
The following is advertising material: I, Bruce Godfrey, do handle unemployment hearings in Maryland routinely as a practicing attorney, and welcome inquiries at 240-687-3564. My practice normally charges an initial consultation fee, but please inquire at 240-687-3564 and mention “Basic Guide” to get that initial consultation fee waived for a 45 minute free consultation.