Published by MoASBO, August 2014

As employers, school districts are often the recipients of unemployment benefits claims filed by former employees. This article provides a general overview of the process for protesting a claim and the various levels of rulings and appeals.

The Missouri Division of Employment Security (“Division”) is the division of the Missouri Labor Department that is responsible for the administration of unemployment benefits in Missouri. When a former employee files a claim for unemployment benefits, the employer receives notice from the Division. The employer has ten days from the date of the notice to protest the claim if it wishes to do so. The notice itself provides the specific date by which the employer must provide, in writing, the information which it believes justifies the denial of benefits. One side of the notice includes the form that should be filled out if the employer wishes to protest. The form includes providing information about the specific reason for protesting. When filing a protest, the employer should provide all available facts to support its protest, and also submit relevant supporting documentation. On its website at http://labor.mo.gov/DES/Employers/employer_protest, the Division gives a summary of the most common grounds for employer protests and the documentation or other evidence the Division needs for each.

For example, if the employer is protesting unemployment benefits because the claimant was discharged for misconduct in connection with work, the Division suggests that the employer should provide the following:

  1. The date claimant was discharged
  2. All incidents of unsatisfactory conduct that played a part in the disciplinary actions, such as warnings and reprimands, gross negligence, absenteeism, willful inefficiency, dishonesty, etc.
  3. What was said to the former employee and what the employee said or did
  4. The employer’s policy regarding the incident that led to discharge and how the claimant would have been aware of this policy.

Following the employer’s submission of a protest, an employee of the Division called a deputy, who is designated to make investigations and administrative determinations, will consider what is submitted by the employer and make an administrative ruling called a “determination” regarding whether or not the claimant is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. This determination is made without a hearing. A copy of the deputy’s determination will be given to both sides and either side can then appeal the determination. The appeal must be filed within 30 days of the date of the determination and the last date to file the appeal is set out on the determination. The appeal form for an employer, along with specific instructions for filing the appeal is found on the Division’s website at: http://labor.mo.gov/DES/Appeals/how_to_file_appeal.

Upon appeal by either party, the matter goes before the Appeals Tribunal, where an employee known as a “referee” serves as an administrative judge. The referee conducts a hearing in which both parties have a chance to argue their case and present their evidence. Either party may be represented by an attorney for the hearing, but does not have to be. A notice of hearing is mailed to each party at least seven days before the hearing. The hearing is typically conducted by telephone, although either party does have a right to an in-person hearing instead of a telephone hearing. The hearing notice should be read carefully as it contains important instructions regarding how to participate in the hearing, what issues the hearing is for, what evidence will be taken during the hearing, and what the referee’s decision after the hearing will determine. The Division’s website at http://labor.mo.gov/DES/Appeals/hearing_info, contains more complete information regarding the hearing process, but listed below are a few highlights:

  • Parties cannot rely on what has previously been submitted to the deputy. The referee will only consider the evidence presented to him/her at the hearing. In other words, even though evidence may have previously been presented to the deputy, the evidence needs to be presented at the hearing to be considered by the referee.
  • Parties should present firsthand evidence to prove the facts. Witnesses with personal knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the issue should testify. Each witness who may participate in the hearing should be identified prior to the hearing beginning.
  • If a party intends to present documents or have witnesses testify from documents at the hearing, those documents (exhibits) must be mailed, faxed, or otherwise delivered to the opposing party and the Appeals Tribunal early enough to assure receipt by the time of the hearing.
  • The Appeals Tribunal may help both the claimant and the employer present their cases. The Appeals Tribunal has the right to question all witnesses. The claimant or the claimant’s representative may question the employer and/or the employer’s witnesses. The employer, when the employer is a party, or its representative may question the claimant and/or the claimant’s witnesses. Each party will have an opportunity for a summary statement prior to the conclusion of the hearing.

After the hearing is concluded and the referee has had a chance to consider the evidence presented at the hearing, the referee will make a ruling in the form of a written “decision,” a copy of which is mailed to each party. The decision may be appealed by either side, by filing an application for review to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (“Commission”) within thirty (30) days from the date of the decision. After the Commission has completed its review of the case, each party is sent the Commission’s written decision. After the Commission reaches its decision, the decision becomes final 10 days after it is issued. This completes the process at the administrative level. However, the Commission’s decision can be appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals within 20 days after the decision is final.

As detailed above, there can be multiple levels of review regarding a claim for unemployment benefits. Written notices, forms, and other communication from the Division, as well as the Division’s website, all provide important information regarding the process and thus should be reviewed thoroughly. In addition, you should feel free to consult with your legal counsel with questions regarding the process, the law with respect to the various issues that arise, and what type of evidence best puts forth your district’s position with respect to the specific claim.