If you received a final written determination from the Department of Employment Services (DOES) regarding unemployment benefits (also called unemployment compensation or unemployment insurance), and you disagree with that determination, you have the right to appeal the determination to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
The purpose of this page is to help you learn more about unemployment benefits cases and the OAH hearing process. This page does not give legal advice. You can only get legal advice from a lawyer. If you are trying to find a lawyer, click on the “I need more help” tab below for information on who you can contact.
Also, OAH tries to keep information on this page up to date, but laws and procedures sometimes change. You should refer to notices from DOES, orders from OAH, and official sources of laws and rules for current information and requirements regarding your case.
How do I request a hearing?
To request a hearing, you need to file two things with OAH:
- a completed copy of the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Form and
- a copy of DOES’s written decision, normally called a “Claim Examiner’s Determination.”
The Appeal Form includes instructions on how to file your request with OAH, including important deadlines. You can also visit the Filings & Forms page for detailed filing instructions. Generally, you have to request a hearing within 15 days of receiving DOES’s written decision.
If your hearing request does not include a copy of DOES’s written determination, OAH will send you an order directing you to file a copy of the determination by a set date. If you need more time to get the determination from DOES, you may request an extension. If OAH does not receive a copy of the determination by the deadline, your case may be dismissed. In that case, you would need to start over and file a new appeal once you receive the written determination from DOES.
You must get the Claim Examiner’s Determination or other final written decision directly from DOES. OAH is a separate agency from DOES, so OAH does not automatically have DOES’s determination and cannot get a copy from the agency on your behalf.
OAH Rules 2981 and 2808 have more information about hearing requests.
What are the OAH Rules and where can I find them?
The OAH Rules explain all the steps required to complete the OAH hearing process, from requesting a hearing to appealing a judge’s final decision. You can find the OAH Rules on the Rules & Laws page. You must follow the OAH Rules throughout the process.
Chapter 29 has rules for specific case types, including Unemployment Insurance cases. So, you should start in Chapter 29 if you are looking for a rule about OAH procedures. Specifically, Unemployment Insurance cases are covered by Rules 2980 through 2986. If a Chapter 29 rule does not have the information you are looking for, you should then look at the Chapter 28 rules, most of which broadly cover all case types at OAH. Chapter 29 rules sometimes refer to the related Chapter 28 rule to give you some guidance. Both Chapters also have a table of contents with section headings that can help guide you to the information you need.
Where can I find laws and regulations that apply to my case?
Every case has its own facts and circumstances, so some cases may involve laws and regulations that are not listed on this page. However, the D.C. Code and the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR) generally cover unemployment benefits cases.
The D.C. Code is where you can find District laws that create a program, such as the unemployment insurance program. Within the bounds of those laws, the D.C. agency that administers the program may then make regulations creating specific requirements and procedures. Regulations are often more detailed than laws, but laws have more authority. If there is a discrepancy between a law and a regulation, the law applies. When a judge decides a case at OAH, he or she may apply both laws and regulations to reach a final decision.
The laws creating the District’s unemployment insurance program are in Title 51, Chapter 1 of the D.C. Code. More specifically, laws about the administration of the program are in Subchapter 1, Part A, which includes Sections 51-101 through 51-127. These sections apply to many unemployment benefits cases that are appealed to OAH. For example, Section 51-109 gives eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits, Section 51-110 explains why someone can be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits, and Section 51-119 describes the penalties for false statements or representations in cases where DOES is alleging a claimant has committed fraud.
DOES is the agency that administers the District’s unemployment insurance program. As such, DOES’s regulations also have requirements and information about unemployment benefits. These regulations are in Title 7, Chapter 3 of the DCMR. For example, Section 7-311 of this Chapter has regulations regarding whether a claimant qualifies for benefits if they leave work voluntarily, and Section 7-312 has the standards for when a claimant is disqualified because of misconduct.
It can be helpful to navigate to the relevant title and chapter numbers in the D.C. Code and DCMR and look at the subchapter and section headings. The headings can help guide you to the particular sections that apply to the issues in your case.
If you are having difficulty finding or understanding laws or regulations that may apply to your case, click on the “I need more help” tab below for more information about who you can contact for help.
How do I prepare for a hearing?
After you file a hearing request, OAH will mail you a “scheduling order” that tells you when your hearing will be. OAH will also email you the scheduling order, if you put your email address on the Appeal Form and check the box to allow OAH to send orders to you by email. You can also use the Consent to Email Service form for this purpose.
The scheduling order will have specific instructions, but hearing preparation generally involves each side collecting the information they want the judge to know and planning how to present the information during the hearing.
Information you present during a hearing is called “evidence.” There are two broad categories of evidence:
- Verbal testimony (what you and other witnesses say at the hearing)
- Documents, photographs, or other physical items
For testimony, you can practice telling your side of the story before the hearing. If you have witnesses that will testify on your behalf, you can ask your witnesses to practice their testimony as well. Practicing your testimony can help make sure you and your witnesses don’t accidentally leave out important information and can help you feel more comfortable on the day of the hearing.
If a witness won’t agree to come to a hearing voluntarily, you can ask the judge for a “subpoena.” A subpoena is a court order that requires someone to come to a hearing and testify. Visit the Subpoena Request page, under “Filings & Forms,” for more information about the subpoena process.
Documents, photographs, or other items you plan to use to support your case are called “exhibits.” You should collect all your exhibits before the hearing so that you can file a copy of the exhibit with OAH and “serve” a copy on the other party by the deadline given in the scheduling order. “Serving” means delivering, mailing, or faxing a copy of the exhibit to the other party. You can also serve exhibits by email if you and the other party have agreed in writing to allow service by email. If you are the claimant, the other party will likely be either DOES or your former employer. If you are the employer, the other party will likely be your former employee. You can find the contact information for the other party at the end of the scheduling order, on the page called “Certificate of Service.”
If you know that the other party, or a person or organization related to the case, has important documents about the facts in the case, but they will not give you copies of the documents, you can ask the judge for a subpoena that will require them to do so. Besides requiring someone to testify at hearing, a subpoena can also be used to require someone to share documents. You can also ask the judge to allow “discovery.” Discovery is the formal process of getting information from an opposing party. Discovery generally is not needed or permitted in most OAH hearings, but it may be an option if you have a good reason. Visit the Subpoena Request and Discovery Request pages, under “Filings & Forms,” for more information about these processes.
Also, as you prepare exhibits, keep in mind that OAH is a separate agency from DOES. That means that OAH does not automatically have copies of anything DOES sends you or any of DOES’s records. To use those documents at the hearing, you still need to file copies with OAH.
You should also keep in mind that properly filing and serving an exhibit does not automatically mean that the judge can rely on the information in the exhibit when making a decision. Instead, you need to be prepared to introduce the exhibit during your testimony or a witness’s testimony. In other words, you or a witness will need to describe the item and may need to answer questions about it, so that the judge can be satisfied that the item is relevant to the case and is reliable. After you or a witness describe an exhibit and answer any questions from the judge or the other party, you can then ask the judge to admit the exhibit into evidence. If the judge allows the exhibit into evidence, you can then refer to the item in detail during your testimony, and the judge can rely on the item when making a decision. You need to be prepared for this process for each individual exhibit.
Before the hearing, OAH will send you a list and copies of all exhibits filed by both sides. OAH will also mark all exhibits with exhibit numbers. This ensures that all parties and witnesses are looking at the exact same documents during the hearing. So, you can familiarize yourself with the exhibit packet so that you can easily reference exhibits by number during the hearing. You can also use the exhibit list OAH sends you to keep track of which exhibits you or a witness have talked about and whether the judge has admitted the exhibit into evidence.
Here are some of the common OAH Rules that apply to hearing preparation: Rule 2809 (Filing of Papers); Rule 2811 (How to Serve a Paper); Rule 2812 (Calculating Deadlines); Rule 2813 (Motions Procedure); Rule 2821 (Hearings and Evidence). Other rules may apply, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the OAH Rules’ table of contents so that you know where to go to look for particular requirements. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
How do I send documents or other exhibits I want to use for my case?
All exhibits must be filed with OAH and served on the other party or parties.
You can file exhibits with OAH in person; by mail, email, or fax; or through the OAH E-Filing Portal. Visit the Filings & Forms page for specific filing instructions.
“Serving” means delivering, mailing, or faxing copies of your exhibits to the other party. If the other party has agreed in writing, you may also send exhibits by email.
Each party must file and serve exhibits by the deadline given in the scheduling order to make sure both sides have opportunity to review all the documents and other items the other side intends to use to support their case. For unemployment benefits cases, the deadline is generally three business days before the hearing.
If you do not know the contact information for the other party, look at the “Certificate of Service” at the end of the scheduling order you receive from OAH. The Certificate of Service lists the contact information for each party.
What can I expect at a hearing?
You should look closely at your scheduling order for information about how your hearing will be held, but most OAH hearings are currently remote and are scheduled to take place by telephone. OAH uses a program called Webex to hold remote hearings, but only a phone is required for anyone to join. Visit the Webex Hearings page for more information about joining a remote hearing by phone.
If you are scheduled for a telephone hearing, you can request a video hearing or an in person hearing, using the Request for Video Conference or In-Person Hearing form. Or, if you are scheduled for an in-person hearing, you can request to join the hearing by phone, using the Request to Participate by Telephone form.
Whether remote or in person, an evidentiary hearing is generally divided into three main parts:
- Opening statements
- Presentations of evidence
- Closing arguments
An opening statement is your chance to give the judge a broad overview of your case and what you intend to show through your evidence. An opening statement is not required, and parties frequently skip opening statements and get right into the presentation of evidence. But if you prepare an opening statement, keep in mind that it is not testimony and does not count as evidence. So, remember to present all of your evidence during the next part of the hearing, even if you talked about it already in your opening statement.
The presentation of evidence is the main part of the hearing. The judge will explain the how the hearing will go before it begins, but the side with the “burden of proof” normally goes first when giving evidence. If you have the burden of proof, then you will likely present evidence first, and you must present sufficient evidence to prove your side. If you don’t, then the other side will win.
The side with the burden of proof depends on the issue in the case. For example, if the issue is whether a claimant is disqualified because of misconduct, the burden is on the employer to prove that the conduct occurred and meets the legal definition of “misconduct.” See 7 DCMR § 312. If a case involves whether a claimant voluntarily left employment, the burden is initially on the employer to prove the claimant left voluntarily. If the employer gives sufficient evidence, then the claimant is disqualified, unless the claimant can then prove that the leaving was for “good cause connected with the work.” See 7 DCMR § 311. If the case involves a claimant’s eligibility, the burden is on the claimant to prove that he or she meets the eligibility criteria for unemployment benefits.
When it is your turn to present evidence, you can give testimony and, if the judge allows your exhibits into evidence, talk about the documents or other items you have as evidence. (See the “How do I prepare for hearing” tab above for more explanation about how exhibits are admitted into evidence). You can also have your witnesses attend and ask them questions to get them to testify on your behalf. Asking questions of your own witnesses is called “direct examination.”
After you or a witness are done giving testimony, the other side can ask questions about the testimony that was given. This is called “cross examination.” Likewise, after the other side’s witnesses give testimony as part of their presentation of evidence, you will have the opportunity to ask them questions. However, neither side is required to ask cross examination questions, and the judge will not assume you agree with the testimony of the other side’s witnesses if you choose not to question them. The judge may also have questions for the parties and witnesses throughout the hearing.
Finally, after both sides have presented their evidence, each side can give a closing argument. A closing argument is not required but is your opportunity to summarize your evidence and legal arguments as to why you should win. The closing argument is not evidence, and you cannot introduce new exhibits during your closing or talk about information that was not admitted into evidence.
Throughout the process, keep in mind that all evidence and arguments are being given directly to the judge. An evidentiary hearing is not an opportunity for the parties to talk and argue between themselves. So, you should practice your opening statement, presentation of evidence, and closing argument as if you are speaking directly to the judge.
I do not speak English very well. Can I get an interpreter?
Yes. Upon request, OAH will provide a free court-certified interpreter at your hearing. You cannot have a friend or family member interpret for you during a hearing.
You may request an interpreter when you file your initial hearing request, or you may request an interpreter at any other time by calling OAH at (202) 442-9094 or by emailing [email protected]. But please let OAH know as soon as possible that you need an interpreter for your hearing to give OAH time to schedule an interpreter.
If you have not requested an interpreter by the day of your hearing, you should let the judge know that you need an interpreter, and the judge can try to get an interpreter. If the judge cannot find an interpreter right away, the judge will need to reschedule the hearing to give time for OAH to schedule an interpreter for a new hearing date.
OAH will also provide an interpreter if you need to speak with an OAH Customer Service Representative or Resource Center staff, whether visiting in person or calling by phone. Simply ask for an interpreter and identify your language when you visit or call, and OAH staff will contact an interpreter to assist.
I have an impairment that makes it hard for me to attend a hearing. Can I get an accommodation?
Yes. Upon request, OAH will provide reasonable accommodations to allow you to participate in your hearing. You may request an accommodation when you file a hearing request, or you may request an accommodation at any other time by calling OAH at (202) 442-9094 or by emailing [email protected].
Please explain the accommodation you need, and OAH staff will be in touch with you to arrange reasonable accommodations for the day of your hearing. OAH may need some time to arrange the accommodations, so please let OAH know as soon as possible what accommodations you will need for your hearing.
What if I need to change my hearing date?
You may ask the judge in writing for a different hearing date, also called a “continuance.”
For this type of request, you must first reach out to the other party to see if they will agree to a different hearing date. The other party doesn’t have to agree, or even respond. But you at least need to make a good faith effort to get the other party’s consent.
You then must file your request with OAH and send a copy of the request to the other party. To make sure you give OAH all the information needed for this type of request, you may use the Request for a Different Hearing Date form.
You should never assume that a request is granted. If your hearing date is approaching and you have not received a written response, contact the OAH Clerk’s Office to see if the judge has acted on your request. If the judge has not acted on the request by your hearing date, then the hearing will be held as originally scheduled and you will be required to attend.
OAH Rule 2813 has more information about filing case-related requests, also called “motions.” The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
What if I miss my hearing?
If you missed your hearing, and you still want a hearing, you must ask for a new hearing date in writing as soon as possible. Even if the judge sends a Final Order in the other party’s favor before you file your request, the judge can still grant a new hearing and change the final order. However, you must give a good reason for having missed the hearing. To make a request, you may complete the Request for a New Hearing form and file the form with OAH and serve a copy on the other party.
OAH Rule 2828 explains more about this type of request. OAH Rule 2813 has more information about filing case-related requests, also called “motions.” The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
How does a judge make a final decision?
The judge will not make a final decision about your case during the hearing. Rather, the judge will take time after the hearing to carefully consider all the evidence before making a final decision in writing. The judge’s written decision is called a “final order.” The final order will be sent to all parties to the case and will explain the facts of the case as determined by the judge, the laws that apply to the case, and the judge’s legal conclusions based on how the law applies to the facts.
The final order will also explain your appeal rights, in case you disagree with the judge’s decision.
What can I do if I disagree with a judge’s final order?
If you disagree with a final order, you may either:
- ask the OAH judge to reconsider the decision or grant relief from the final order, or
- file an appeal with the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Visit the Closed Case Forms page, under “Filings & Forms,” for more information and instructions.
I need more help.
If you do not have a lawyer and need additional help, you may talk with someone with the OAH Resource Center. Call (202)-442-9094 and press "4" from the main menu, or send an email to [email protected]. The OAH Resource Center cannot give legal advice or be your lawyer, but our staff are happy to answer questions and give general information about unemployment benefits and the OAH hearing process.