WHAT DO PENNSYLVANIA UNEMPLOYMENT REFEREES DO?
Pennsylvania Unemployment Referees decide unemployment appeals from decisions by the Unemployment Service Center. Among the issues they decide are willful misconduct; voluntary quits; independent contractor status; and, overpayments.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A HEARING BEFORE A PA UNEMPLOYMENT REFEREE?
A Hearing before an Unemployment Referee is a recorded process where the witnesses are sworn in, and evidence (both verbal and written) is introduced. Typically, Referees issue their decision within 2 weeks of the Hearing date. They almost never decide the case at the Hearing, and sometimes take longer than 2 weeks to issue their decision.
HOW DOES A PERSON BECOME A PENNSYLVANIA UNEMPLOYMENT REFEREE?
To become a PA Unemployment Referee, one has to receive training and test out. Some Referees are attorneys, but many are not. All Referee's are employed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
DO PENNSYLVANIA UNEMPLOYMENT REFEREES HAVE TO FOLLOW THE LAW?
Whether attorneys are not, most Referees are intimately familiar with the law of unemployment in Pennsylvania, which over the years has largely been developed by Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court (an intermediate appeals court that typically handles appeals involving the Commonwealth and its agencies). If you do not know the precedent that has been established by the Commonwealth Court, you are going into a Hearing with one arm tied behind your back.
The Referees are also very familiar with the rules of evidence, and particularly those governing relevance and hearsay. Therefore, they tend to conduct sharply focused hearings, and will (assuming proper objections are made) only consider credible, relevant, non-hearsay evidence.
WHERE DO PA UNEMPLOYMENT REFEREES WORK?
Referees typically are assigned to one location, where they go to work everyday. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, those are Hearing Offices located in Norristown, Malvern, Springfield, Bristol, Philadelphia, Reading and Lancaster.
Referees usually handle anywhere from 4-8 Hearings each and every day. They know exactly what they are doing, and the more experienced Referees have probably heard your "fact pattern" a hundred times. I find that the overwhelming majority are "fair," although there are of course those that can be categorized as very conservative (favor employers) or liberal (favor employees).
ARE THERE RULES ON HOW TO CONDUCT PA UNEMPLOYMENT HEARINGS?
A few. They must be recorded. Witnesses must be sworn. The evidence must be presented in a certain order depending upon the "burden of proof" in the case. Other than that, there really aren't any.
Some Referees tend to want to control the Hearing, putting themselves in the forefront by asking questions of both sides before allowing representatives (such as lawyers) to ask any questions. Others take a different approach, requiring the parties to establish their case all by their selves, with periodic questions from the Referee. There are no set rules on this; to each Referee his/her own.
WILL THE REFEREE PROTECT ME IN A HEARING?
Referees will not act as an advocate for either side. Thus, if you do not present evidentiary objections (such as relevance or hearsay), do not expect them to "bail you out" by raising and ruling upon such issues on their own motion.
CAN I APPEAL A PENNSYLVANIA UNEMPLOYMENT REFEREE'S DECISION?
Yes, such appeals are decided by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review. Appeals to the UCBOR are "paper appeals." Unless you have raised evidentiary or legal issues that have been mishandled by the Referee, do not expect to win such an appeal. Referee's are almost never overturned merely because the decision was unfair, or because the Referee chose to believe one side over the other. Also, if you "forgot" to introduce evidence at the Hearing, do not expect to have the right to introduce such "new evidence" to the UCBOR.
You get one bite at the apple - and it is before the Referee.
More questions about Pennsylvania Unemployment law? See our comprehensive answers to FAQs.