A total of 36.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the shutdowns started in mid-March. And already the unemployment rate has soared to 14.7%—its highest since 1940.
But this flood of people seeking benefits, combined with federal changes in who is eligible, has overwhelmed states’ ability to process claims quickly. The slowness of many states to approve claims has made it difficult even for Americans who waited weeks for an answer—only to learn their claim was denied.
Having a denied claim, however, isn’t the end of the road, according to the experts Fortune spoke to. Here’s what to do next.
What to do if your unemployment claim gets denied?
Before picking a remedy for a denied jobless claim, applicants need to find out why they were denied. They should get a “notice of determination,” which spells out the specifics. An employer could have blocked it based on information he or she provided to your state: Perhaps the former employer said you failed a drug test, or you quit your job without good cause. On the flip side, you may have just lacked the proper information in your application.
Knowing why your claim was blocked is the first step to fighting a denied claim, says David Barron, an employment lawyer at Cozen O’Connor. In some cases, especially if you applied early, states denied claims because they had not yet updated eligibility to include categories such as freelancers, who were newly eligible for unemployment under the March stimulus bill.
Should you reapply or appeal following a denied unemployment claim?
Every state is different, but if it’s a simple reason for being denied, like missing information, it probably makes sense to simply refile, Barron says.
“Some [people] chose to refile rather than go through the appeals process—sometimes refiling is faster and works better,” Barron says.
But if the denial was a result of a bigger issue, like an employer challenging a claim, then going through the appeals process is probably the right path, Barron says. (Employers are known to fight claims at times since these can impact how much they pay into UI.)
What does the unemployment appeals process entail?
Americans denied an unemployment claim have the right to an appeal—which doesn’t require a lawyer. This process varies by state, but usually the denied have around 30 days to start the appeals process. During the appeal, denied applicants continue to file weekly claims, and if they win the appeal they get back-paid the benefits. In Washington an administrative law judge will be assigned to the case, but appealing applicants can do the hearings via telephone.
But there is also an appeals process for employers. If you get unemployment benefits, your employer usually has the right to file its own appeal if it believes you are ineligible.
More people are eligible for unemployment benefits. Whom does this include?
The March stimulus bill passed by Congress expanded who is eligible for unemployment benefits. This includes jobless freelancers, independent contractors, and self-employed business owners.
And some Americans who’ve seen their hours cut can receive partial UI benefits. Additionally, some states have waived work-search requirements and typical waiting periods.
How do the additional weekly $600 unemployment benefits work?
The stimulus bill passed in March provided an additional $600 weekly in unemployment insurance benefits to everyone who qualifies for his or her state’s program. Out-of-work Americans can get the additional $600 per week through July 31.
Americans receiving UI benefits will automatically get the additional weekly federal money, regardless of their income level. And the money is retroactive to when their initial claim is eligible—not when it is approved—going back as far as the last week of March. But unless they are extended, the expanded benefits only last through July 31, so if you are laid off this week or in the coming weeks, you will have a shorter window in which to receive the expanded benefits.