Written by Galen T. Shimoda and Justin P. Rodriguez
Not everyone is familiar with the process of claiming unemployment benefits. Whether it is because of a moral aversion to receiving government benefits or the good fortune of never having to leave a job "involuntarily," it is just not something that many people put on the top of their "to-do" list. But, like many other things in life, the need to know how to increase your chances of successfully claiming benefits can be thrust upon you. To be clear, there is no foolproof way to obtain benefits in every case. Sometimes the facts surrounding the separation with your former employer will automatically exclude you from receiving benefits no matter how unfair you think that may be. On the other hand, there are many cases that are in a "gray area" on whether a person will be entitled to benefits.
First, you have to realize that the Employment Development Department ("EDD"), the agency you will be dealing with during the claims process, does not have the resources to allow each and every person claiming benefits a large amount of time to explain what happened or "prove" they're in the right. Translation: be concise. Do not drone on during the initial interview about how no one liked your supervisor, or how life is so unfair. The EDD, and the administrative law judge ("ALJ"), who will hear the case (if there is an appeal of the EDD's initial determination on benefits), are concerned with one thing - what was the cause of your separation from your employer. If you were fired because you were two (2) minutes late on only one occasion, say so. If you believe you were fired because you asked to receive wages like overtime, speak up. The EDD and the ALJ will not have time to go into complete background, so just give them the salient points.
This brings me to my next point: be clear. Have all timelines and relevant information at your fingertips, so there are no gaps in your recounting of the final event before separation. But, telling the story is not enough. You have to make sure what you say is not "lost in translation" by the EDD representative taking notes on the phone. You are able to ask them to repeat back what you said and correct them if they have misinterpreted your words or assumed some additional fact that can affect how the EDD will ultimately rule on your case. We have seen this several times in appeal hearings where the ALJ becomes confused with what the claimant is now saying in front of them as opposed to what the EDD wrote down on the claim sheet. It can affect your credibility with the judge and make them inclined to side with the employer unless you have a good explanation of why any discrepancies in the initial statement exists. It is better to avoid this at the outset and just correct the EDD representative when he reads your statement back to you.
My third and final point is: be knowledgeable. The EDD has recently gone through great pains to make the law that governs claims for benefits more accessible. They have created a new online guide [link to: http://edd.ca.gov/UIBDG/] that explains all the major issues that can affect whether someone will be entitled to benefits or not. For example, you can search under what circumstances being fired because you were late would qualify as misconduct and thereby make you ineligible for unemployment benefits. Before you even fill out the initial claim form, try to find the area that best describes how your separation from employment took place, e.g. voluntarily quitting or misconduct. In the case of voluntarily quitting you can learn more about whether you had "good cause" to quit (which would be required in order to still receive benefits). In the case of misconduct, you could learn more about whether your inability to perform up to the employer's standards actually satisfies the definition of misconduct (it generally does not). With the added knowledge about what the EDD considers relevant for benefit determinations, you will be much better equipped to ensure there are no gaps in the information you provide because you know what is important to the EDD about how the separation took place.
While basic, following these three tips will help you improve your odds of obtaining benefits when you are in that "gray area." If you are looking for legal representation at your EDD appeal hearing or believe you may have any claims against your current or former employer, contact the Shimoda Law Corp.