The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development may deny your claim for unemployment benefits. Often, the state denies benefits because the claims examiner finds you were at fault for your separation from employment. You may appeal those decisions — or any decision — to the Department’s Bureau of Legal Affairs.
The Bureau assigns an administrative law judge (ALJ) to hear your case. You will have the right to introduce evidence and have witnesses testify on your behalf. The hearing will be held at a nearby hearing office, unless one or more parties live 40 miles or more from the offices. In those cases, the Bureau will schedule a telephone hearing.
If the state denies your claim, the DWD will mail a notice (determination) informing you of the denial, the reason for it, and information on how to file your appeal. Most importantly, the notice will tell you how many days you have to file the appeal. You must file your appeal by that date. If not, you may lose your right to appeal unless you can show “good cause” for filing a late appeal.
How to File Your Appeal
You must file in writing if you don’t file online. You have to include certain information in your appeal, including:
- Your name, social security number and contact information
- The number of the determination you are appealing
- The name and location of your former employer (prior to filing a claim)
- A short statement that you are appealing the determination
You don’t have to write a discussion of the reason for the appeal. However, it may help to include barebones info about your claim.
The Bureau will schedule your hearing once they receive a timely, properly formatted appeal request. It may take as little as six days. Once they schedule the hearing, you will soon receive a notice. You’ll receive a Notice of Hearing if your hearing is in person. If you will have a telephone hearing, you’ll receive a notice along with documents and instructions.
Both forms will inform you of the date, time and/or place of the hearing. Check for any scheduling conflicts. If you find any, you should move to take care of the conflict ASAP. General scheduling issues, like a work or class schedule will not be considered a “good cause” to reschedule your hearing. You will have to show the ALJ an “exceptional” reason to reschedule.
Be aware that when the issue is whether you quit for good cause or were discharged for misconduct, the Bureau will mail your former employer a notice. Your former employer will have the right to appear at the hearing.
Preparing for the Unemployment Benefits Hearing
Whether by telephone or in-person, you will be able to exercise rights to help you prove your case. You may have a representative at the hearing, you can present witness testimony and evidence. Consider what your argument will be, whether you will need a representative or witnesses, and what kind of evidence, if any, you will present. Come up with a fact-based, logical argument to present to the ALJ.
You have the right to have someone represent you at the hearing. This could be a friend or a hired attorney. Attorneys have rules they must follow to participate in the administrative hearings. The most important rule to you is that the lawyer must tell the Bureau how much he or she will charge you, and the Bureau will have to approve it.
Most people find they can present their own case without legal aid. However, if your case is complex or you have a problem with public speaking, you may consider finding assistance. The Bureau can lead you to legal assistance, but will not provide a lawyer for you.
If you want to have someone testify at the hearing, they should be prepared to testify as to the facts regarding your separation from work (if that is the issue of your appeal). They should have first-hand knowledge about what happened. Character witnesses do not usually provide helpful testimony unless your character is at issue.
If your witness is unavailable, don’t try to use a witness statement in lieu of their being present. The ALJ may accept the statement, but is not likely to consider it as quality evidence. Your witness won’t be present to verify they wrote the statement. You may attempt to reschedule, or use other means to get the witness to the hearing.
You may present relevant documents that can help prove your case. You can present paperwork regularly produced in the course of business, like time sheets or notices from your supervisor. Other written evidence should be presented if you can have the person who created the document present at the hearing.
The Bureau handles medical evidence by requiring you to have your medical professional complete a form. This way, the evidence is verified and the medical professional does not have to attend the hearing.
You may present audio or video evidence. It must be in mp4 format.
You must bring the original and two (2) copies to the hearing with you. If you have a telephone hearing, you must provide copies of the evidence to the ALJ and your opposing party in advance of the hearing.
You may experience a situation where your witness is reluctant to participate. There may be someone with evidence you need, but they won’t release it to you. The ALJ may grant a request to issue a subpoena to compel a witness to appear, or some entity to present a document you need to make your case.
You have to be able to show a compelling need for the witness or document for the judge to grant the request. If the judge grants the request, you will be responsible for serving (delivering) the subpoena. The ALJ will give you the instructions for doing that.
If you need a language interpreter or other accommodations, the Bureau will provide those upon request. You must make your request ASAP. You may not use your own interpreter.
At the Hearing
You should arrive early to the in-person hearing. If you are late, or don’t show, the judge will dismiss your case and the original determination will stand. You may request a reopening, but you must show “good cause” to the judge. A “good cause” will be the exceptional circumstances discussed earlier.
The ALJ will conduct the hearing in a similar fashion to a court trial. The procedure is less formal, however. You will be sworn in and receive instructions from the ALJ. Both parties to the hearing will present their testimony, evidence and witnesses under oath. Both parties will be able to “cross examine” the other party’s testimony and witnesses. Both parties may make closing statements.
The ALJ will decide based on the facts presented at the hearing and an application of Wisconsin’s unemployment law to those facts. The ALJ will mail the decision to both parties.
A handy guide to the appeals process
An in-depth FAQ on appeals
Office hours are 7:45 AM – 4:30 PM Monday through Friday