'I had to struggle to keep my unemployment benefits.'

I am about at the end of my unemployment benefits.  My husband is only employed part time, so I really need my unemployment benefits for us to stay afloat.  But, with both of us having some pretty severe health issues (I am diabetic, he has a seizure disorder) we need to have health insurance.  Right now we are under COBRA insurance, which costs us $527 a month, for just him and me.  Our children, thankfully, are covered under Title 19 insurance, through the state.

I had to struggle to keep my unemployment benefits. After I was fired, I went home and applied for unemployment, and started looking for jobs that night.  A few weeks later, I received a letter from the Department of Labor, stating my former employers had appealed my eligibility for unemployment. They claimed misconduct on my part. I was angry and disappointed in my former employers, who bill themselves as a “Christian” company; this company has a reputation for appealing its workers’ unemployment claims, and also has a reputation for winning the appeals. I didn’t know how my family and I were going to survive if I did not get unemployment. I was frightened, because I thought I would be facing a sharp-tongued attorney at the hearing. So, I began researching the unemployment statutes in South Dakota. I spoke to people at the Department of Labor and Unemployment.  I tried to make contact with the State’s Attorney, and tried to get other legal advice, in order to prepare myself for the upcoming Appeals Hearing. DOL and Unemployment were probably the best sources of help. The State’s Attorney told me they do not handle unemployment issues, and, even being on unemployment and having an under-employed husband, I still did not qualify for help through Legal Aid.  I was on my own.

When the hearing took place, I had my notes laid out in front of me. I also took notes from what my former employers said. I made careful rebuttal to some of their issues, asking questions when I needed to, and laid out my side of the case as carefully as I could. I also told the judge some of the things that the CEO of the company had told us during two employee meetings—twice he told us that due to the higher-than-average quality control and quantity control numbers they had, they knew full well that some employees would not be able to make the quotas.  To quote him, “Some of you will not be here next month.”  I also asked my former employers to clarify some of the items they had put in their paperwork regarding their justification for firing me.  The judge, too, asked some very pointed questions regarding their reasons for firing me.  When I made my closing statement, I quoted the statutes regarding misconduct, and briefly restated my belief that  my actions did not qualify as misconduct. The judge ruled in my favor, and my unemployment benefits were not interrupted.

However, almost a month later, I got another letter from DOL, saying my former employers were appealing the judge’s decision. I, along with the help of a friend, wrote a rebuttal letter to the State, giving my side of the story. This time they claimed I had misrepresented myself as being bilingual. I quite clearly told them at the interview that I could speak Spanish; it wasn’t perfect, but could usually make myself be understood. They hired me with that knowledge. However, in the letter to the State, they claimed I had told them I was fully bilingual; in essence, they flat-out lied. They never brought that up in the first appeal, so I also asked the State to disregard that argument, as it was not a part of the original appeal. I again won the appeal, and waited with baited breath for a letter stating the appeal had been taken to the Circuit Court level. I am very grateful that this did not happen.  

Jae U., via email

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