If you are a worker who lost work and applied for unemployment benefits, you may be asked questions by an unemployment interviewer or judge. If you rely on instincts in responding, you could make serious (and common) mistakes, and lose benefits you should have won.
Before you have an unemployment phone interview or hearing, you should (1) have an attitude that is polite and factual, and (2) follow the three rules while answering questions.
(This article is not legal advice; if you want legal advice about your specific situation, please consult with an attorney).
The right attitude and approach
It is important you have the right attitude and mindset before you call or attend a hearing with an unemployment representative. Your attitude should be polite and factual.
It is important to be polite at all times. You should of course be polite toward the person asking you questions. But you should also be respectful concerning the employer or witnesses who oppose you. Many employees make the mistake of talking negatively about their opponent.
Keep in mind that the unemployment representative is neutral, and does not want to hear negative talk about your opponent. You should avoid adjectives or conclusions about the employer.
If you try to convince the representative that the employer was “wrong,” “unfair,” etc., the representative is more likely to believe that you are the problem. Phone interviewers and judges do not like being spoon-fed conclusions. They want to make their own conclusions: they want to decide what is fair or not, what is misconduct or not, etc. They do this by collecting facts, analyzing those facts, and making conclusions based on their own review of the facts.
You will be asked questions about facts. That is, you’ll be asked about events you observed: who, what, where, when and how. Your role in answering questions is that of a witness. A witness is someone who speaks about events he or she observed. If you are answering questions as a witness should, then you should be acting almost like a parrot: stating statements that were said, or actions that were done.
Often, the representative will ask questions about the end of your last job. If you are like most workers, it will be a sore topic to talk about how your last job ended. You may feel strong emotions when questioned. However, if you answer questions from an emotional state of mind, that will often affect answers in a negative way. You’ll be tempted to use adjectives and conclusions (e.g. “my boss was unfair, and lied”) in your answers, instead of facts.
Remember at all times to speak the language of facts, not opinions or adjectives, and to be polite and respectful. Especially during those questions that make you feel emotional.
Follow the three rules when answering questions
If you have a polite and factual approach, then you are in the right mindset to follow the three rules of answering unemployment questions.
The three rules are easy to understand. But they are hard to follow, because emotions can get in the way.
The three rules are:
- Listen very carefully to each question.
- Answer only the question you are asked, without more.
- Tell the truth.
The rules are simple, but they are hard to internalize, and hard to follow while “in the moment” of answering questions.
Practice following the rules by having a friend or family member role play as an unemployment authority, and ask you questions about unemployment issues, e.g. questions about how your last job ended. By answering questions, you (and your questioner) will see how well you actually follow the rules, as compared to how well you think you are.
You may think you can rely on your instincts, but instincts often cause you to do the opposite of the three rules. Following the three rules is an act of discipline that you must keep in mind throughout the whole period of time you are asked questions.
For example, consider a worker whose former employer fired him, and accused him of “falsifying formwork.” The worker denies this, and is upset the employer fired him. Say the worker is asked the following question by an unemployment interviewer:
Interviewer: “What did the employer tell you was the reason or reasons for your discharge?”
Worker: “My boss told me I was fired for ‘falsifying formwork.’ But that isn’t true. I just had an error on the form, and they lied and said it was intentional. There are coworkers of mine who fudge their time cards, and management never does anything about that. If those workers didn’t commit misconduct, then I can’t see how I could have. I think the employer fired me for discriminatory reasons. I had surgery on my back, and they thought I was a liability.”
Note that only the first sentence in the answer above was needed to answer the question: “What did the employer tell you was the reason .. for your discharge?”
“My boss told me I was fired for ‘falsifying formwork.'” That’s all the answer should have been.
- Rule 1 (Listening carefully to the question) is violated in that the answer shows the worker clearly didn’t listen to, and take to heart, exactly what he was asked. He was only asked to repeat something that the employer said to him. That was it.
- Rule 2 was violated because the worker volunteered far more information that what the question asked, and in doing so he tried to tell his story, give his explanation. But legal authorities don’t want you to explain yourself or be an advocate. Again, you are a witness, whose purpose is to answer factual questions with facts, not with your “story” or explanation.
- Rule 3 (tell the truth) is also violated by the answer above. Even if the additional volunteered information above is all true, the response is still not honest in a way. That is, the volunteering of extra information is a way of being evasive or defensive, and not straightforward.
If you give an answer like that above to an unemployment authority, your credibility as a witness will be hurt. If you follow the three rules, with discipline from first question to last, then you will be a straightforward and credible witness.
Your credibility as a witness will be a very important factor, often the most important factor, in the unemployment authority’s decision about whether you are awarded benefits.
Before you answer questions from an unemployment authority at a phone interview or hearing, please be sure (1) your attitude is polite and factual; and (2) you follow the three rules for answering questions.
If you do these things, you will be a credible witness and will increase your chances of being awarded unemployment benefits.