What You Should Know About Pennsylvania Unemployment Telephone Hearings
Last Fall, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry was required to lay off 500 employees who worked for the Unemployment Compensation Bureau as a result of a funding dispute between the state legislature and the Governor’s office. Many of these employees worked in Unemployment Service Centers throughout the state and others were Unemployment Compensation Referees, who adjudicate appeals. As a result, the ability of unemployed Pennsylvanians to obtain much needed unemployment benefits has been significantly impacted. In recent hearings before the Senate Appropriations Committee in Harrisburg, Kathy Manderino, the Secretary of Labor and Industry described the unemployment system as “broken” as a result of the slashed funding. She testified that “The customers and employers of Pennsylvania are not getting the kind of service they deserve.” Reports are rampant of extremely long wait times when calling into the service centers, if a caller can get through at all. As a result, our office has received many complaints from clients about their inability to get through to a service center representative and the delay in processing their claims.
Another side effect of the layoffs was the closing of many of the offices where unemployment appeal hearings take place. At the time of this article, hearings that would normally have taken place in York, Lebanon, Carlisle, Chambersburg and many other communities, were being handled out of either the Harrisburg or Lancaster Referee’s office. Most of these hearings are now being held as telephone hearings due to the distance of the employee or employer from the Referee’s office. Telephone hearings are handled somewhat differently than in-person hearings and if you are not familiar with the telephone hearing rules, your case could be significantly impacted.
First, you will need to closely examine your hearing notice to determine whether the hearing is an in-person hearing or a telephone hearing. If either or both parties are attending by telephone it will indicate that usually just above the party’s name on the hearing notice.
Second, don’t assume if one party is scheduled by telephone that the other party will be attending by telephone. Again, whether a party attends by telephone is usually determined by how far the party is from the Referee’s office. If a party is at least 50 miles from the hearing site, that party may be scheduled by telephone. If you are more than 50 miles from the hearing site and want to participate in person, you may do so, but you should contact the Referee’s office to advise them of the same.
Third, it is important to check the telephone number listed on the hearing notice to ensure that the Referee will be calling the correct number. If a telephone number is not listed on the hearing notice, it means the Referee’s office does not have a telephone number and they can’t call the participant. If the number is incorrect or if there is a more convenient number that the Referee should call, you must contact the Referee’s office to let them know.
Next, don’t assume the Referee will be able to get through if the hearing notice has the correct number. If you have a block on your phone that restricts calls in any way, the Referee’s call could be blocked and you may never get to participate in the hearing. If the Referee is unable to contact you with the number provided, the hearing will not be continued and the Referee will continue with the hearing and make a decision based on the available testimony and documents. If you suspect that your phone could be blocked, you must contact the Referee’s office to provide an additional telephone number.
Finally, when you receive your hearing notice, there will be a pack of documents included from the Referee’s file. These documents will be the only documents that the Referee will consider, unless, you submit additional documents to the Referee’s office at least five (5) business days before the hearing. Any documents that are not included in the original service center file must be submitted and mailed to the opposing party prior to the hearing. If you have important documents that you believe should be considered by the Referee, you may be precluded from using them if they are not timely submitted to the Referee, even if you are in attendance in person for the hearing.
While often inconvenient, sometimes telephone hearings have their advantages depending on the facts of the case and who is participating so it is best to speak with an experienced Pennsylvania Labor and Employment Attorney who can best advise you on how to proceed.