Category Archives: Unemployment – Wisconsin

Three Rules for an Unemployment Interview or Hearing

If you are a Wisconsin worker with an unemployment application pending, you may have a phone interview or hearing coming up.  If you do, you will soon be answering questions from a legal authority in the unemployment process.

Before you have a phone interview or hearing– that is, before you start answering questions as a witness– please consider these Three Rules.

Rule 1: Listen to each question, very carefully.

Rule 2: Answer ONLY the question you were asked (without volunteering extra information, explaining yourself, or telling your “side”).

Rule 3: Be truthful.

These rules sound simple, right? They are easy enough to understand.  But it can be very hard to follow
them all.  For example, being truthful (#3) involves not lying.  Should be simple enough not to lie.  But if you volunteer extra information you weren’t asked for (violating #2), the legal authority may think you are lying or being evasive, because you’re not giving the information requested.

Once you are in the moment, and engaged in the question-and-answering process, your human instinct will urge you to violate the three rules.

Here’s an example of how many workers fail to follow the rules (I probably would too, if I didn’t have the benefit of repeat experience with the process).

PHONE INTERVIEWER (or JUDGE): What did the employer tell you was the reason for your termination?

EMPLOYEE: They told me I yelled and talked back to my boss and that I was “insubordinate.”  That wasn’t true.  I have never talked back to my boss or so much as raised my voice.  HR never even asked me for my side of what happened.  If HR had just talked to me and my coworkers, they would have known I never talked back to anyone.  My boss was the one constantly harassing people; he yelled at lots of people.

Notice this is the kind of response that human instinct will WANT to say. But the answer above does NOT respond directly to the question presented.  This kind of answer– no matter how true its components may be– is the kind of answer that makes witnesses lose credibility (and at times, their unemployment benefits) in the determination of the questioning unemployment official.

An employee following the 3 rules would realize that the first sentence of the answer above (“They told me… I was ‘insubordinate'”) is the only information needed to answer the question that was asked (“What did the employer tell you…”).

Employees commonly get into trouble by hearing the question as they WANT to hear it, e.g. hearing the unemployment official’s question above as if it were this: “What did the employer tell you, and explain to me why the employer is wrong and you’re right?”

All that extra stuff– the need to give an explanation of your “side”– is what your instincts will want to spill out of you.  You’ve got to keep a lid on that.  The easiest way to keep the lid on is to listen carefully to the question (rule #1).  If you listen to exactly what is asked of you, then it’s easier to precisely answer only what’s asked (rule #2) and to be truthful (#3).

Thus the Three Rules.  If you’re going to be an attentive and effective witness, then it’s critical that you listen to each question carefully, respond with exactly the information you’re asked for (and no more), and respond truthfully.

And telling the truth, by the way, is more than just not lying.

In a way, the response above is not truthful, even if  its volunteered/excessive facts (e.g. “My boss was the one constantly harassing people”) are true and supported by evidence.  While it’s not a “lie” to volunteer your side of the true facts, it’s nonetheless not being straight-forward.  That is, telling your story– when the question did not ASK you to– is a way of being evasive and defensive.

Much of my unemployment legal work involves helping employees internalize the Three Rules.  It is common for employees to violate the rules, left and right, and often it takes me a good deal of thought and practice until employees internalize the rules and adopt the function of a witness.  Employees often tell me, “yeah, yeah, I understand the rules, let’s move on”– but then we practice with some questions, and once on the hot seat, the employees realize that the Three Rules aren’t so easy to follow in real-time.

There are of course other important things to know and prepare for before you attend a phone interview and hearing.  It’s important to know which facts and issues are important, which ones are not, and which ones may annoy your questioner or even lose your benefits on the spot.

But the Three Rules come into play before you even think about the facts of what occurred.  The Three Rules are a matter of discipline, and understanding your place as an employee-claimant within the unemployment system.  Your role is that of a witness.  And the essential function of a witness is to listen to each question carefully, and to answer it precisely and truthfully.  If you do not properly understand and accept that role, then you could run into problems with the unemployment process, regardless of the merits and factual circumstances of how your job ended.

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:

WI Unemployment - No Fees Unless You Win

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Wisconsin Unemployment Info and Resources for Workers

Here are some (hopefully) handy resources for Wisconsin workers with pending unemployment issues:

State of WI DWD’s Legal Resources webpage

Information from the State about unemployment laws, case decisions, and practical information (e.g. FAQs, info about how to file an appeal, attending an unemployment hearing).

Blog Articles About WI Unemployment for Workers

Contains links to all the articles on this Employee Rights Wisconsin blog geared toward workers with WI unemployment issues.  The posts listed there include Employee Tip: Filing for Unemployment in WI; Preparing for Appeal and Hearing (this is the most-read article on the blog), Three Rules for an Unemployment Interview or Hearing, and other worker-oriented articles about WI unemployment issues.

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Polite Hearings, and the Distinction Between the Person and His Conduct

Dogs and Cats Living Together!

Recently I was at a legal hearing.  It was the same old drill in most respects.  Two parties opposed each other.  A boss had fired an employee.  The boss’s testimony opposed the employee’s testimony, and vice versa.  Neither side changed any beliefs when the hearing was over.

But after the hearing, a great thing happened.

After the hearing, I saw my client, the employee, approach the boss that had fired him and now testified against him.  The two men proceeded to shake hands.  Then they stood and talked for awhile.  From the two persons’ body language, I could tell that they liked and respected each other.  I also knew that neither person had changed his mind about the hearing, or about feeling right about his position on the job termination.

These two dynamics– having a big dispute with an opponent, yet liking that opponent– are not contradictory.  Not if disputes are recognized for what they are: a conflict between two views, not a conflict between two persons.

As is often written, it’s important to recognize there’s a distinction between a person and his views.  Between a person and his conduct, or a person and his misconduct, e.g. “hate the sin, love the sinner.”

It’s easy to note these distinctions, and their surface logic that it’s best to be polite and not personalize matters.  But these oft-spoken standards usually go out the window after a legal dispute starts.  More often than not, legal proceedings are made personal and taken personally.

But not this time.  Which is more than good.

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Unemployment: The Legal Decision-Maker Isn’t Your Friend (Or Enemy)

Angry judges and steadfast court reporter
Image by beingkatie via Flickr

If you are an employee seeking unemployment benefits, and you will be talking to an unemployment agency phone interviewer and/or administrative judge, please avoid a common pitfall: don’t assume that the unemployment representative will identify with you, and will be receptive to you complaining about your former employer.

An unemployment representative isn’t your friend.  That representative won’t be receptive to complaints or adjectives,  e.g they won’t want to hear you saying your former employer was “unfair,” “wrong,” “lying,” etc.  A friend or acquaintance (especially one who knows and trusts you) may well be open to accept your opinions, labels and conclusions at face value.  But again, an unemployment interviewer or judge is not your friend.  They don’t know you from Adam, and don’t know the employer from Adam.  You DON’T want their first impression about you to be “This person is a complainer who is telling me what to think without telling me the facts.”

While an unemployment interviewer or judge isn’t your friend, they are not your enemy either.  They don’t want to hear the employer hand-feed them a bunch of conclusions either.  If the employer does the things I am telling you not to– and the employer tells the unemployment representative long-winded sentences with negative labels and conclusions– then that will likely serve to your benefit, because the unemployment rep won’t view that as credible coming from the employer either.

An unemployment interviewer and judge want the facts.  As such, they will ask you factual questions: who, what, where, when, why, how.  If you respond to these factual questions with factual answers — and you discuss persons, places, statements, and actions in factual terms (“My boss stated the sky is green”) rather than opinionated terms (“My boss is a liar”)– then the unemployment representative will better appreciate your information, better be able to perform their job, and will more likely view you to be credible and reasonable.

I have covered most of the suggestions above within other posts.  But these issues are worth repeating and isolating as the topic of this post, because it is instinctive and common for an employee- claimant to treat an unemployment decision-maker as if they have a sympathetic ear that’s open to adjectives.  If you stick to the facts, and let the unemployment decision-maker decide the labels and conclusions that apply, it is more likely the issues will be decided in your favor.

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:

WI Unemployment - No Fees Unless You Win

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Attitude Matters at Your Wisconsin Unemployment Hearing

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.

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Beware of the Employer Who Challenges All Unemployment Claims

Given the hard economic times, and surge of unemployment, Wisconsin employees have reason to be concerned about being laid off or fired from their jobs.

Unfortunately, WI workers have an additional concern: there are some employers out there who appear to challenge the unemployment benefits of most, if not all, of the workers whose employment is terminated.

A challenge-every-unemployment-claim employer may contract with lawyers or vendors whose sole job is to process unemployment challenges by the company.  Unemployment challenges thereby become a streamlined business function.

Apparently, some employers have decided that they benefit financially by challenging every (or many) unemployment claims; by winning some percentage of these challenges, they save money that would have been paid toward unemployment benefits.  And apparently the employer expects the money “earned” from defeating unemployment claims will be more than the money paid to the vendors and lawyers who work to defeat the employees’ claims.

The employers’ most common basis to challenge unemployment is to claim the terminated employee was fired for “misconduct.” If an employee is legally found to be fired for “misconduct” (defined by WI law to basically mean severe wrongdoing that goes above and beyond poor job performance), then they are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

I expect employers to make a surge of overreaching “misconduct” allegations, and a surge of unemployment benefits challenges, that coincide with the increased job terminations during the economic downturn.

For those Wisconsin workers who are laid off (or expect you may be), I have a post here about pursuing unemployment benefits and preparing for an appeal hearing, should there be a dispute over your unemployment benefits.

Please note: I don’t intend to be fear-mongering here.  Most employers do not challenge unemployment in an assembly-line fashion and reserve their allegations of “misconduct” only for a minority of their terminated employees (i.e. those employees who the employer truly believes committed misconduct).  But the assembly-line unemployment-challengers are increasing in number, and tough economic times will further amplify the trend.  Bottom line: in this day and age you cannot assume your employer will act fairly if you apply for unemployment benefits.

You should keep an eye out to make sure your employer is not one of those who treats unemployment proceedings as a business forum to save money, and who value that function over human rights and survival benefits.  If you are one of the unfortunate persons who are laid off or fired, you should ask around, to see if your employer has routinely challenged unemployment for most or all workers.

Regardless of your employer’s track record with unemployment, you should prepare for an unemployment challenge, and you should consider Plan B alternatives in the event that unemployment benefits are denied.  By being aware of these possibilities and planning to prevent them, you will increase your chances of receiving unemployment benefits.

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:

WI Unemployment - No Fees Unless You Win

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Three Words You Should Never Say in an Employment Dispute

The late George Carlin famously spoke about seven words you can’t say on TV.

Not one to miss a chance to co-opt, I will offer you three words you should NEVER utter in an employment dispute.

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