Fighting for your unemployment

Are you dealing with a dispute about unemployment benefits? Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, our firm has represented Washington State claimants in hundreds of appeal cases. We regularly work with frustrated clients fighting confusing decisions denying benefits or charging overpayments (when the state Employment Security Department demands benefits back after they are paid). ESD’s letters are often difficult to understand. We have seen claimants worry about threatening overpayment notices from the state for weeks or months before they receive a hearing. Frequently unemployment claimants are anxious about the hearing process and unsure how to prepare for a hearing in their appeal.

Our attorneys are experienced with the unemployment benefits appeal process. We have won numerous appeals, ensuring that unemployment claimants either keep their benefits or receive additional compensation. From our offices in Olympia, we can represent clients at telephonic hearings across the state of Washington. We personally review every case with our clients in detail and make sure we are aware of the relevant documents and information to support a client’s arguments ahead of any hearing. Our goal is to counsel our clients effectively and seek out the best available outcome for each case.

Even today, over three years since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in Washington, there is a large backlog of unemployment appeal cases waiting for a hearing. State government agencies report that it takes over 200 days on average for appeals to be resolved after they are filed. To make the most of your own unemployment dispute, consider the services of a professional. While each case is unique and we can never guarantee the outcome of an appeal, once we are aware of the specific facts of a client’s situation, we can advise about best options. Contact our firm to discuss how we can help with your unemployment dispute.

Washington ESD unemployment claimants’ civil rights investigation

During the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of workers lost their jobs and had to seek financial help from state-run unemployment insurance. In Washington, the state Employment Security Department reports it paid a staggering $20.9 billion in benefits to claimants between March 8, 2020 and August 21, 2021. This includes claimants covered by an alphabet soup of programs including traditional unemployment insurance (UI); Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA); Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC); Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC); Lost Wages Assistance (LWA); and extended benefits. At the same time, ESD’s deficient policies and procedures, coupled with its inadequate software system for managing claims, have deprived needy people of due process of law and have violated certain claimants’ civil rights.

For claimants, ESD’s claims handling process can be frustrating in many ways. The agency’s software system for unemployment benefits, “UTAB,” transmits poorly worded form letters that can baffle a claimant (for example, “Re-Evaluate Claim” letters that state some decision was made about the claim, but do not say what the decision was based on). The Department routinely issues overpayment notices that are legally void (because they are untimely), demanding claimants to repay weeks or months of benefits. And if a claimant appeals an ESD decision, he or she may wait months before a hearing, at times receiving repeated billings for overpayment amounts claimed by the Department in the meantime. And even if a claimant wins an appeal, the lengthy delay may result in significant hardship that cannot be entirely cured by awarding his or her overdue benefits.

What’s more, ESD routinely provides eligible claimants with pre-hearing notices that fall below its own standards for “adequate notice.”  Problems with its notice forms are notorious. Seattle Times, Washington State Literally Failed Workers, Feb. 26, 2021 (“The [claim] filing process still can be complicated, slow and easily stalled, many claimants say. Those with questions often struggle to contact the agency. Its website and computer-generated notifications can be notoriously confusing and even inaccurate.”). The agency’s pervasive problems with defective claimant notices spurred the state Legislature to pass reforms ordering ESD to use “plain and understandable language.” ESSB 5193 (Ch. 271, §3, Laws 2021) (requiring that ESD use plain and understandable language in notices and specify the legal and factual basis for determinations).

Our firm represents unemployment claimants seeking benefits from the Employment Security Department. We have litigated dozens of benefits claims before the Washington Office of Administrative Hearings since the Covid-19 pandemic began. We have seen disturbing patterns of vague and ambiguous determinations by ESD, facially void untimely overpayment assessments, and bureaucratic incompetence. We are actively investigating potential violations of claimants’ civil rights by the Employment Security Department including in situations listed above. If you are challenging an adverse unemployment decision, or believe your civil rights may have been violated, we want to hear from you. Contact us to discuss your situation; only after we accept you as a client and review the particulars of your matter can we advise you about your rights and options.