Representing Yourself at a Referee Hearing
If you (or your employer) appeal a decision made by the Job Center, you should hire an attorney to assist you at the referee hearing. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you may represent yourself. You may also be eligible to obtain free legal representation from NLSA. Here are some suggestions for representing yourself, but there is no guarantee that these suggestions will work in your case. You may need to know a lot more to present your case well.
What you should do when you receive the “Notice of Hearing”.
You will receive the “Notice of Hearing” in the mail. Read the Notice carefully. When and where is the hearing? If you were denied unemployment compensation, why? If you were not denied unemployment compensation, what is the basis of your employer’s appeal? Study NLSA’s pamphlets to learn your best arguments to obtain unemployment compensation. Once you receive the Notice, you should call the referee’s office at the telephone number listed on the Notice, and ask them to send you a copy of your case file. In the file, you will find the documents that the UC Service Center relied upon in making the initial determination. Study the file. When you get to the hearing, if there is something in the file that hurts your case that was prepared for your employer by someone who is not present, you may want to object to the document as hearsay.
Prepare yourself for the hearing in advance.
Plan your argument. If you were granted unemployment compensation benefits, why was the initial determination right? If you were denied unemployment compensation benefits, why was the initial determination wrong? Make a list of the facts you want to testify to, and a list of questions you want to ask the employer, his/her witnesses, and your witnesses. Organize what you want to say in an orderly and concise fashion.
Line up your witnesses.
Ask them to dress neatly for the hearing, and instruct them to be polite at the referee’s office. You have the right to subpoena witnesses that won’t come voluntarily. You may obtain subpoenas from the referee’s office, and you can serve them on the witnesses yourself, or you may hire a constable to do it.
Should you subpoena records from your employer?
You have the right to do so. However, a subpoena may cause your employer to realize that you are really preparing for the hearing. This could cause your employer to take your claim more seriously, and hire an attorney.
What to do when you arrive at the referee’s hearing.
Make sure that you and your witnesses arrive early at the hearing. When you arrive, check in with the referee’s staff. Your file will be waiting for you. Examine the file one last time. Make sure it contains all relevant documents. When the hearing begins, you may want to make a hearsay objection to any document prepared for your employer by a person who is not present at the hearing, if that document hurts your case.
Throughout the hearing, try to remain calm and reasonable.
Try not to show anger. The referee will ask everyone who plans to testify to swear, or affirm, that they will tell the truth. Generally, you should not interrupt the testimony of the employer or his/her witnesses even if they are lying. However, you may interrupt to object to hearsay testimony, such as testimony that is based on the observations of someone not present at the hearing. You may also interrupt to object to testimony and evidence about a new issue not mentioned in the initial determination.
Questioning your employer.
After the employer testifies, you may ask him/her some questions. You may also ask questions after each of the employer’s witnesses testify. If you think the employer or a witness will lie, it is usually best not to ask him/her questions.
Presenting your case.
When it is your turn to testify, use your list to help you remember to tell the referee all of the important facts. Answer any questions from your employer or from the referee honestly and politely. If the referee thinks that you are not being honest on one small matter, he/she probably won’t believe any of your testimony. If you have witnesses, tell the referee that you want them to testify. You will have to ask them questions. Again, use your list so you will not forget anything.
What happens next?
The referee will send you a copy of the decision. Read it carefully. If the referee ruled against you, you have fifteen days from the date of the referee’s decision including weekend days to appeal the decision to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review. If fifteenth day ends on the weekend, then the next business day will count as the fifteenth day.