During the pandemic, thousands of Washington residents lost their jobs and were forced to submit claims for unemployment benefits. As many are aware, the system was overwhelmed and many individuals did not receive benefits for several weeks or even months. Now that the State’s unemployment claims have leveled off, the Employment Security Department is catching up and reviewing claims. In some cases, this can result in the department issuing an “Overpayment Notice” for benefits already received. In many of those cases, the benefits have already been spent on necessities, so paying the benefits back would result in significant hardship.

If you receive an Overpayment Notice, it is important to know your rights as it relates to unemployment benefits. First, you have the option to appeal the department’s decision. Generally, you have thirty days to file an appeal, but you should review the instructions included with your Overpayment Notice to ensure you meet the deadline. If for some reason you are unable to file an appeal by the deadline in your Overpayment Notice, you may still be able appeal the department’s decision if you can show good cause for filing a late appeal. In that case, it will be up to the court’s discretion as to whether your appeal is heard.

Once you file an appeal, your case will be sent to the Office of Administrative Hearings. At the hearing, you’ll need to explain to a judge the circumstances surrounding your collection of unemployment benefits. This often involves showing that you were willing, able, and available to work, as well as explaining the reason for terminating your previous employment. While legal representation is not absolutely necessary in these proceedings, it can often be helpful.

Additionally, it is important to note determinations of benefits generally become final after 30 days, if the department does not allege fraud, misrepresentation, or nondisclosure on the part of the claimant. Each time an additional payment of benefits is made, that is considered an informal determination of benefits. So if you were paid regular (as opposed to conditional) benefits, and it has been more than 30 days, the department cannot redetermine your eligibility absent a showing of fraud or misrepresentation.

The appeal process is fairly straightforward, but can seem daunting if you are not familiar with these hearings or with your rights related to collecting unemployment benefits. I highly recommend that you seek legal advice if you received an Overpayment Notice or any other redetermination notice from ESD.

By Greg Simpson – Associate Attorney

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