Fired for Gross Misconduct
How to Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits
If your employer contested your application for unemployment benefits after firing you for gross misconduct (or just misconduct) and the state unemployment office denied you benefits as a result, then you have the right to appeal the denial through the state unemployment office.
The same goes if your employer contested your application for any other reason, or no particular or clear reason.
Provisions in the Social Security Act and related state unemployment laws are what grant you the employee right to appeal an unemployment benefits denial.
The appeal process varies by state, as do the related unemployment laws; but, generally, unemployment offices must automatically notify recently-denied applicants about how to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits. If you don't receive such a notice shortly after you've been denied benefits, then contact the state unemployment office.
A denial of unemployment benefits appeal typically must be in writing (such as by completing an official form) and state the reason why the denied applicant is appealing. To improve your chances, follow instructions to the letter and meet or beat deadlines, as you might not get a second chance.
If the initial stages of your appeal fail, then you'll have the option of taking your case to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). If you take that route, be sure to first get your case in order including supporting evidence.
Although it's typically not required to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits, hiring an attorney to represent you before an ALJ might be a good idea anyway, as your employer might have done the same or at least consulted with internal legal council. Alternately, your employer might have hired an agency that specializes in handling unemployment claims, including benefit denials and resulting appeals hearings.
According to the New York Times at this writing, one such agency that handles more than 30 percent of unemployment claims is notorious for unscrupulously denying benefits to employees, to save money for its client employers. The agency has often been accused of frivolously contesting benefits or lying about employee gross misconduct or good cause for quitting, and counting on employees not fighting back.
The decisions of administrative law judges are legally binding. However, if an ALJ decides to deny you unemployment benefits and you still wish to stand your ground, then you might have the option of appealing the ALJ's decision to an overseeing appeals board.
If you unsuccessfully exhaust all avenues of appeal after you are denied unemployment benefits, then you may take the matter to court. (For example, your attorney might recommend that you file a petition for a writ of mandate to a state court.) If the court accepts your case and you win, then your employer will probably have to at least retroactively grant you unemployment benefits plus pay your legal and court fees.
Your former employer may not retaliate against you for appealing a denial of unemployment benefits or for participating in related proceedings. The same goes for witnesses, such as former coworkers, who testify on your behalf. If the employer retaliates anyway, then you or your witnesses may file a lawsuit. Consult an attorney about that.
To more specifically research how to appeal a denial of unemployment benefits in your work state, contact the relevant state unemployment office or browse its Web site. The same goes for researching what gross misconduct (or just misconduct) means under your work state's unemployment laws regarding a denial of unemployment benefits. Many unemployment offices provide such information on their Web sites these days.
Update: Because of the financial strain caused by providing benefits in the prolonged job-market recovery, Arkansas, Florida and Rhode Island have toughened rules regarding misconduct and other disqualifications. The new rules became effective in 2011 or 2012 and make it more difficult to win denial appeals. Florida's rules even allow denials for misconduct outside of work.