If you’ve just lost your job, you’re probably tightening your belt and counting your money, trying to figure out how to make ends meet until you find a new job. In this situation, you may not be interested in paying your dwindling cash to an attorney, and often, this would be an intelligent decision. Like many employees today, you may have no trouble qualifying for unemployment benefits if you are laid off because of a tough economy. The application process is relatively simple, and you can handle it online in most states. As long as you meet your state’s eligibility requirements, you should start receiving benefits within a few weeks of applying without an attorney’s help.
Handling Your Own Claims
It makes sense to file your unemployment claim if your situation is relatively straightforward. For most people, filling out a claim form is pretty simple. This form differs by state, but you may need to provide basic information about yourself, your employment history, and why you are unemployed. After you submit the form, the state unemployment agency can interview you by phone or in person. The agency will also talk to your employer. Then, if you meet the eligibility requirements, the state will grant your claim, and you will start receiving benefits.
Contact the unemployment insurance agency to learn about your state’s rules and procedures for filing a claim; see the State Unemployment Agency for links to individual state agencies.
When You May Need a Lawyer
There are situations when it makes sense to get help from a lawyer for unemployment appeal. Here are some examples:
- You have a lawsuit against your employer. If you believe your employer has violated your legal rights, you should consult a lawyer to determine your claim’s strength. For example, you may think that you were selected for dismissal because of your race or that your employer fired you in retaliation for reporting health and safety violations. In this situation, your jobless claim may be only the first step in a lengthy legal process, which could result in a significant financial reward. If your attorney believes you have a good case, they can help you file for unemployment, making sure to state the facts the most favorably for your case. Lawyers can also use unemployment to assess your employer’s possible defenses and strategies.
- You are fired or quit your job. You will be eligible for benefits only if you leave your employment through no fault. If you quit your job voluntarily, without a good reason (as defined by your state), you will not be eligible. You will also be ineligible if you are fired for a serious offense (as determined by your state). In most states, terminated or fired employees must attend a hearing to determine their eligibility for benefits. In these situations, an attorney can help you find the best way to complete your paperwork — and present facts at trial — to demonstrate that you qualify for benefits. Of course, hiring a lawyer in this situation makes sense only if the gain you get in profits exceeds what you owe the lawyer.
- Your claim for benefits was improperly denied. If your jobless claim is denied, you have the right to appeal. State procedures differ, but you’ll usually need to file a written appeal and attend a hearing, in person or by phone, to state why you think you’re entitled to the benefits. In these situations, having a lawyer to help you prepare the paperwork and assist you in your trial can make the difference between winning and losing your case. Again, though, it makes sense to hire a lawyer only if the benefits outweigh the costs. And, you should carefully consider whether you stand a chance of winning: An attorney can help you make a persuasive case but can’t change the facts. If you’re ineligible for benefits under your state’s laws, hiring an attorney isn’t help.