If you are a Wisconsin employee with an unemployment hearing coming up, my post here has comprehensive information about WI unemployment hearing procedure, preparation, and issues to consider.
Stepping back from those detailed issues, there is another, more fundamental issue to consider: attitude.
Your attitude is important, and can make or break your hearing.
The most effective approach and attitude, in my opinion, are discussed as follows.
Leave Your Adjectives at the Door; Talk in the Language of FACTS
If you walk into your unemployment hearing ready to explain that your former boss “lied,” and that he is a “hothead,” “unreasonable,” “disorganized”– or any other adjective– then you have just lost half the battle.
Here’s a little secret that most attorneys know, and most employees don’t:
Judges hate adjectives and conclusions that are provided by anyone other than judges. After all, it is the judge’s job– not the employer and employee witnesses’ job– to make conclusions and decisions about who was right and wrong.
If you are answering questions as a witness should, you will NOT answer like this example:
Unemployment Judge: What did your boss tell you when you were fired?
You: He told me that I “falsified documents.” That’s just like him to make up something like that. If what I did was “falsifying documents,” then ten other employees should be fired for doing much worse things. That management is just ridiculous. I didn’t commit misconduct- they did, if anyone.
Please know this: it is not your place, as an employee-witness, to provide adjectives, labels or conclusions at an unemployment hearing.
Your job, rather, is to answer questions with FACTS: who, what, when, where, how.
GOOD testimony is something like this: “On June 1, 2009, Mr. Jones stated ‘Handle a hundred calls today or you’re fired.'”
BAD testimony: “Mr. Jones was blatantly unfair and made unreasonable demands.”
Three Rules for Testifying/Answering Questions
Another issue of attitude concerns discipline in answering questions. Are you going to walk into the unemployment hearing and wing it, relying on your instincts and everyday conversation style when you answer questions? Or, are you going to walk in disciplined, and prepared to handle questions in the way the administrative law judge wants?
If you want your testimony at the hearing to be credible and effective, there are three rules you must follow: (1) listen carefully to the question; (2) answer the question you are asked (AND NO MORE); and (3) tell the truth, owning up to hard truths without being defensive or evasive.
These rules sound simple, right? They are, but I guarantee you’ll forget these rules if you don’t internalize them and follow them with discipline. Your instinct and emotion will egg you on to do differently, pushing you to tell “your story” for 5 minutes in response to a yes or no question. I know I personally would violate most of my suggestions in this article if I didn’t have the job and experience with the legal system that I do. Many of these suggestions run counter to human instinct, which compels us to explain ourselves and justify why we’re “right”, give our opinions, etc.
However, the judge (and opposing party) are only going to ask you questions about facts. Who said or did something? What occurred? When? How? You are not going to be asked about your opinions or legal conclusions.
Listen to the question as it is (a request for facts)– not as you want it to be (an invitation to explain yourself and to convince).
If you are asked a yes or no question, respond “yes” or “no.”
If you are asked for a date, respond with a date. Do not take an extra step and volunteer your explanation or story when you’re not asked for it. And if you’re asked a question that requires you admit to a hard truth, then do it. Own up. Don’t be defensive, try to downplay what you did wrong, or try to blame others.
Be Polite (Especially When Your Questioner Isn’t)
At the hearing, you may feel that a questioner– especially if it’s your former boss or another employer representative– is being rude, cute, unfair, etc.
You should always be polite and factual in response to questions, especially when the questioner is not.
Remember, you are at the hearing to state facts: X did Y on Z date. That type of information does not need to be accompanied by any anger, defensiveness, tit-for-tat zingers, etc. To the contrary, if you state your facts genuinely and politely, keeping your cool and not taking the bait when baited, your testimony will be all the more credible. You will be the person with the level head in the communication, with the other person showing the anger, sarcasm, or pettiness, etc.
Don’t Hate Your Opponent
You may find it hard to get over hard feelings toward your employer, especially if they fired you and are challenging unemployment benefits that you need to survive.
But keep in mind there is a distinction between a person and the person’s conduct. Even if a manager’s actions toward you were objectively unfair, that does not diminish the value the manager has as a person. He or she is someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone who you may have had positive interactions with in the past. It is good to remember this bigger picture so you don’t get consumed in negative aspects of legal proceedings.
You don’t have to hate your opponent/employer representatives to do what you have to do, i.e. to state facts. If your attitude is one of respect to your opponents, they will pick up on that, and on some level will (unconsciously and/or consciously) appreciate it.
Best of luck with your hearing.
Please note this post does not provide legal advice- if you want legal advice, you must talk to an attorney about your specific situation. If you are interested in legal assistance from attorney-author Michael Brown or his law firm DVG Law Partner for your Wisconsin unemployment matter, please contact us here: