Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Were You Denied WI Unemployment in the Initial Determination? If You Appeal, Don’t Be Late!

If you are a Wisconsin worker who lost your initial determination for unemployment benefits, and you want to contest/appeal that decision, make sure you file your appeal on time, and before the deadline stated on the determination document.

An appeal can be submitted online at the unemployment division’s website (click here), or via a letter.  When submitting the appeal, you should be very careful to closely follow the instructions on the determination form, and– I’ll emphasize it again– to submit the appeal before the deadline.

The initial determination form you received will state the deadline, and the instructions for filing an appeal via internet or letter.

If an appeal is filed late, it is very difficult to get unemployment benefits. Wisconsin’s unemployment division does not accept most excuses for a late appeal, and usually will not accept late appeals.

Don’t procrastinate. File the appeal the same day you received the determination if possible. It does not take long, and most of the information in the appeal is very straight-forward. I have another post here about things to consider when submitting an appeal.

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:

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Be Careful About Saying “Discrimination” In a WI Unemployment Proceeding– That Word Usually Has No Place There

As an attorney with a practice in employee rights, I have represented many Wisconsin workers in unemployment proceedings.

It is common for me to read unemployment-related documents, and to see that my client has (before s/he retained me), used the word “discrimination” in talking about the employer’s actions to the unemployment office.

And almost always when I see that word “discrimination” used during an unemployment matter, it is a bad thing for the employee.

Usually, whether an employer may have discriminated or not is irrelevant for an unemployment proceeding.

For example, the most common type of Wisconsin unemployment dispute I see is about whether the employee (NOT the employer) committed misconduct prior to job termination.  In other words, the whole issue for the unemployment proceeding is whether the employee did something really bad or not.

If an employee goes into a hearing or phone interview, the purpose of which is to decide whether the employee did something bad– and then the employee proceeds to point the finger at the employer to accuse it of doing something bad (e.g. “discrimination”)– that does not go over so well with the unemployment office.  Nor should it. The purpose of the hearing is for the employee’s conduct to be reviewed, not the employer’s bad conduct such discrimination etc.

With this said, there are a few limited unemployment law issues and circumstances where a WI worker does need to address what an employer did wrong. But usually, workers are not aware of or addressing those legal issues when they’re calling an employer “discriminatory.”  Usually, when a worker states that, the worker just feels the employer did wrong, and feels that an unemployment interviewer or judge will want to hear about that and/or will agree with that.

These are dangerous assumptions to make. You should not assume it is okay to talk about the employer’s “discrimination” unless you have reviewed and understand the legal standards, and know that what you’re saying is important under those legal standards. For most unemployment law standards (including discharge-for-misconduct as mentioned above), it is not necessary to mention “discrimination.”

Here is a list of Wisconsin unemployment legal issues and standards, at Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development’s website.

If you have a WI unemployment hearing coming up, chances are the hearing will cover one or more of these listed legal issues/standards.

Please consider reviewing the legal standards (or having a WI unemployment attorney brief you about them) before you decide to tell the unemployment office that your employer was “discriminatory”, or before you otherwise bring up topics concerning what you feel the employer did wrong.

While it is understandable that such things may be on your mind– and may well be true in some instances– you do not want to be offering up information that the unemployment office will find unnecessary and/or harmful to your own case.

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:

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Don’t Play the Blame Game in Unemployment Proceedings

Workers involved in Wisconsin unemployment proceedings are often tempted to play the “blame game.”

Human instinct may tell you that it’s important to tell the unemployment interviewer or judge your opinions about what the employer did wrong.  For example, say a worker was fired because the employer said the worker was “falsifying formwork,” and the employer is challenging unemployment, claiming the worker was fired for misconduct.

If the worker is playing the “blame game,” the worker may tell the unemployment representative these types of opinions/blame-statements:

  • The employer was at fault for not training the worker how to properly complete the formwork
  • The employer was at fault for not investigating the situation properly before flying off the handle and firing the worker
  • The employer was at fault for not firing other people who did the same thing (or worse) with formwork
  • The employer/manager/etc. do much worse things themselves — they set the building on fire, etc.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I hope you see the point.  Playing the blame game looks bad.

While there are times in an unemployment proceeding that a worker may be asked for FACTUAL information about what the employer did wrong– e.g. an administrative judge could ask a question like  “Did the employer train you how to complete that type of formwork?”, to which a worker could respond  “No,” if that’s the truth– this is a very different scenario than the worker being given an open-floor to rattle off instances where the employer dropped the ball.

It’s understandable that, if you’ve been fired or had your unemployment challenged for reasons that seem unfair, you FEEL the employer is to blame. But if you SPEAK to an unemployment representative from that mindset, i.e. if you’re playing the blame game, that is usually a losing game for workers in unemployment proceedings.

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:

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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:

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WI Anti-Bullying Bill, Part II: What Could it Mean for Workforces and Employers if Enacted?

Wisconsin’s anti-bullying bill, if enacted, would prohibit employers’ “abusive conduct” that cause employees “tangible harm.”

I wrote a post here that summarizes the bill.

This post (Part II) speculates what effects the bill could have, in real-life, if enacted.  (If you don’t want my opinion, stop here! :)).

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

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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:

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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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The “Principle” Matters– But A Civil Lawsuit Is Often Not the Means to Pursue It

This blog often says an employee in a dispute with an employer should pay more attention to bottom-line financial considerations (e.g. how much money an employment lawsuit could cost you vs. how much you could win) than to the “principle” of the matter (e.g. how wrong the employer’s action was).

Many folks disagree with this blog’s de-emphasis of “principle.”  And there are some very abusive bad employment situations out there one can point to as examples of “principle” being important, even when financial loss was not a factor.  I have heard from workers whose bosses subjected them to physical assault, to screaming, and to comments and acts that were so insulting they leave me scratching my head as to which direction this world is heading.

Hostile workplace situations– which often do not involve financial loss, or violate the law– are nonetheless harmful and should be addressed.

So, I must note the principle of the matter DOES matter. If your employer is harassing you, that is wrong, and that matters, regardless whether an attorney tells you that you have a good legal claim or not.

The concern this blog has with “principle” is mainly an issue of FORUM: if you address your issue via a civil lawsuit (say, a discrimination claim) this is often not the best forum in which to pursue a principle.  If the “principle” matter is accompanied by an economic loss– for example, if someone is sexually harassed, fired for complaining of sexual harassment, and loses six months of income– then the civil justice system is an appropriate place to try to recover lost money along with the principle.  But the civil system does not make an employer change its heart or apologize, and often winning parties do not even feel a sense of vindication, they just have a financial gain.

A principle– such as correcting an employer’s misconduct, ensuring other employees are not harassed or fired for wrong reasons in the future, etc.– is often better addressed by non-litigation means than by litigation.

A person looking to correct an employer’s conduct can (1) pursue informal, non-costly means to address a problem, like a heart-to-heart discussionwith a representative of the employer (hey, sometimes to your surprise there is a person of influence who will listen to you, you both have open minds, and communication works!); (2) contact your legislator and/or pursue legislation to address the problem/issue of “principle” (for example, Wisconsin could benefit from anti-bullying legislation like some other states have, which prohibit abusive conduct by employers); (3) take your labor and your talents to a better work environment, knowing there are better days ahead.

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Should You Drop the L- Bomb, and Tell The Employer You’re Retaining a Lawyer?

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Are you an employee in an employment dispute, and considering whether to “drop the L-bomb,” and tell your employer you’re retaining an attorney?

Occasionally, an employee/prospective client who consults with me will tell me that he already dropped the L-bomb, and already told his employer he would be retaining a lawyer.

Often, this news was told to the employer in a huff, e.g. “If you insist on denying my medical leave, Ms. Manager, well then you’ll be hearing from my lawyer!”  Every once in awhile, an employee who I’ve never even met or communicated with will send an email to the manager he or she’s having a dispute with, and will copy my email address (found on the internet) on the email to the manager.  Thus this gives the impression I have been retained to represent someone I’d never been in contact with.  (For anyone considering using a lawyer/email address to do this, please DON’T– it’s not a good idea for many reasons).

Making L-bomb threats may feel good when one is frustrated.  However, what feels good to say or do “in the moment” of an angry employment dispute can often result in bad, long-term consequences.

In most situations, it will NOT help an employee to drop the L-bomb, and tell your employer that you’re retaining a lawyer.

In many situations, the employee’s mere mention of the L-word makes the employer even more upset, makes the employer take more adverse actions, and makes the situation worse.  Most employers are not intimidated by L-threats, because often the threats aren’t carried out.  It may be the employer’s experience that they’ve heard many L-bombs dropped, but usually a lawyer was not hired, there was no lawsuit, etc.  Or perhaps your employer anticipates you will likely get a lawyer, but the employer has planned for the worst-case L-scenarios and risks, and the employer isn’t worried about your particular legal issues.  And sometimes, an employee’s L-bomb threat appears to work, and the employer seems to back off, but only later the employee learns the L-threat just made the employer take more carefully-planned actions, without giving the employee (and her attorney) advance warnings anymore.

In sum, the L-bomb usually turns out to be less intimidating to the employer, and less effective in improving the employee’s situation, than the employee expects.

With all that said, there are certain occasions where the news of hiring a lawyer, when well-delivered, CAN make an abrupt and positive impact on an employee’s matter.  And if you’re hiring an attorney long-term, such as for litigation work, the employer must and will be told you have a lawyer at some point, in fairness to the employer.  But before you rush to deliver that news yourself, especially if you’re in a huff, you should stop to reflect.  Since you’re getting a lawyer involved, then it only makes sense you talk to that lawyer about your plans (including any planned announcement you’ve retained a lawyer) before you put those plans in action.

It’s best that the lawyer and employee/client discuss and plan in advance the announcement that the lawyer was hired.  Then that news can be delivered to the employer under carefully-considered timing and circumstances.

that the lawyer and employee/client discuss and plan in adva
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Job-Hunt Discrimination & Defeatist Thinking

I have heard many unemployed workers who are in protected classes under discrimination law (e.g. workers with disabilities, workers over 40 years old) express frustration that employers will not hire them for jobs they are qualified for, and the workers feel this is for discriminatory reasons based on their protected class (e.g. hiring employer does not want to hire workers who have disabilities, who are over 40).

There are times when these workers’ beliefs are in fact supported by evidence, such as discriminatory statements made by the employer during a job interview, the employer having hired a far less-qualified worker who was not in the protected class, etc.  So I will acknowledge, as Kurt Cobain once said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”   And hey, my job is representing workers who – in my view of the evidence- the employer was “after.”

However, job applicants  should know there are many times when hiring employers are not “after” you.  There are many, many non-discriminatory reasons (fair and unfair) that an employer may have for not hiring someone.  There may be 100 more qualified applicants that you don’t know about.  The employer’s owner may have wanted to hire his incompetent nephew for the job, which is unfair, but is not unlawful under WI law.

There are many times when job applicants” beliefs of discrimination are not borne of hard evidence, but instead stem from the frustration in not getting a job.  This frustration is completely understandable, as is wondering about discrimination, as discrimination does exist and is not uncommon.

However, just because discrimination is “out there” doesn’t mean it is everywhere.

Further, even if discrimination is in play for a given job opportunity, it does you no good to adopt defeatist beliefs like “They won’t hire me because of my age- heck, most employers won’t hire me because of my age.”  Even if it were true that most employers exercise age-discrimination in hiring (which is not true in my view), it doesn’t do a worker any good to stew about that, or lose motivation because of that.  Again, most of the time, discrimination is not at issue in hiring decisions.

For those occasions where there is evidence that discrimination is an issue, that is not something to defeat you, but rather an obstacle to work around.

In my view, the most common areas of discrimination in job-hiring context, which are supported by the most evidence, is discrimination based on the applicant’s disability, age, or criminal record (criminal record is basis for a protected class under Wisconsin law, although this is not the case under federal law or many other states’ laws).  Within these protected classes, people who fall on the end of the spectrum- people with the most severe disabilities and medical needs, people of increasingly advanced age, people convicted of types of crimes that are strongly shunned by the public- probably are wise to keep potential discrimination in mind as they apply for jobs.

However, such at-risk workers should not dwell on discrimination, or stew about how bad it is (even though it is).  Rather, discrimination should be thought of as something to adjust to.  If your reality is that you are dealing with a hiring employer with discriminatory beliefs (e.g. they believe that a person over 70 cannot perform the job at issue), then your task is to politely deal with that belief and try to change it (e.g. point out the rich experiences and resume that a 70-year old has that a 30-year does not).  Anticipate discriminatory concerns (e.g. that an older worker will want to retire abruptly), and affirmatively and politely address them (e.g. explain what your own goals are, and how your work life with the employer would not live out the employer’s fears).

I don’t want to get too motivational-speaker-like here, and I acknowledge that there are a whole lot of people, including many clients I’ve had, who can tell me a lot more than I can tell them about job-hunting tips.  But when it comes to concerns of discrimination, real or perceived, I can tell you firsthand that it is counterproductive to deal with those concerns by stewing about them or viewing them too negatively.  Again, discrimination is something you can deal with and you can overcome, if and when it presents itself.

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